The middle game of an exciting trilogy of pre-season games against Gallagher Premiership opponents will see Jersey Reds renew relations with their old friends from London Irish.
The bank holiday weekend fixture at Stade Santander International, which will kick off at 3pm, offers another chance for the home side to test themselves against a top-flight club, eight days after locking horns with Premiership Champions Leicester Tigers.
After seeing his team compete well in a 26-35 defeat to the Tigers, Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon rings the changes in keeping with his pledge to give all fit members of his squad game-time before the start of the RFU Championship on the second weekend of September.
With some of his back five forwards unavailable due to injury or suspension, the only two players to keep their places in the starting XV are lock James Scott and number 8 Alun Lawrence. Macauley Cook returns to the squad after missing the season opener to partner Scott in the engine room, and will also skipper the side.
Two of the Island side’s most famous wins during a decade in the RFU Championship have been at home against the Exiles, and while the Irish may have been restricted to bonus points on both previous visits, the craic at both games was considerable: a strong rapport developed between the two clubs, and there’s been great enthusiasm about the resumption of the entente cordiale after a three-and-a-half year gap.
The first meeting between the clubs took place in November 2016 at the Madejski Stadium in Reading, with London Irish claiming a 43-29 win after scoring tries through Richard Palframan, Ben Ransom, Tom Fowlie and David Paice (2). The visitors had to be content with a bonus point after Marc Thomas, Guy Armitage, Nick Haining and George Watkins crossed for tries.
Towards the end of March 2017 a large contingent of Irish supporters made the trip to Jersey for a game that was watched by 3,317 people and signalled the end of the Exiles’ 17-match winning run since relegation to the second tier. Nick Scott and Gary Graham scored the home side’s tries, with Callum Sheedy adding five points from the tee – enough to secure a 15-11 win as Scott Steele claimed the only try for the men in green.
Just a week after the game in Jersey, the two sides met again in Reading for a British & Irish Cup semi-final, which finished with another Jersey win: the final score was 17-25, with Haining, Jordan Davies and Nick ‘Salad’ Selway the try-scorers.
In spite of the league hiccup at Jersey hands, London Irish were promoted back to the top tier, only to be relegated again 12 months later having won just three of their 22 Premiership games.
Having been consigned once again ‘below stairs’, another trip to Jersey proved a small consolation for the Exiles, although their fortunes didn’t improve on the field at Stade Santander International. In front of a crowd of 2,515, and with international referee Luke Pearce taking charge, Auguy Slowik scored two of the most memorable tries of recent years. It seemed impossible that the 44th-minute effort, started from scrappy scrum ball behind the home side’s posts and finished at the far end of the pitch, could be bettered, but that was what happened in the final play after a spell of Jersey pressure lasting around two-and-a-half minutes and Slowik applying the finishing touch. It finished 17-14, with Topsy Ojo and Blair Cowan (Exiles) and Leroy Van Dam (Reds) the other try-scorers. See links for MATCH REPORT and JRTV HIGHLIGHTS.
The most recent meeting was the most one-sided of the quintet, with the Irish winning 27-3 at the Madejski in front of the Sky cameras and 3,058 supporters.
On their return to the Gallagher Premiership, the Exiles were more competitive, and finished the Covid-interrupted 2019/20 season in 10th place after securing six wins. Last season brought a move from Reading to the Brentford Community Stadium (now sponsored by Gtech) and nine league wins, as well an extraordinary five draws, to finish eighth.
Two former Reds who could feature for the visitors in today’s pre-season game are Irish captain Matt Rogerson, who made the move north in summer 2018, and prop Ciaran Parker, who completed the same move last October.
Saturday's game is the first part of a double-header at Stade Santander International, with Jersey RFC Men playing their second and final pre-season game against Norwich, whose director of rugby is former Reds' prop Sam Lockwood. The game will kick off at 6.30pm on pitch 1. Please note there will be no parking on pitch 2 - please follow directions and stewards for alternative parking at Strive and other locations.
Jersey Reds squad v London Irish (H) – 2022/23 pre-season game 2/3, Stade Santander International, Saturday August 27th 2022, k-o 3pm
Starting backs (15-9)
Brendan Owen; Ben Woollett, Alex McHenry, Dan Barnes, Will Brown; Tom Pittman, James Mitchell.
Starting forwards (1-8)
Sam Grahamslaw, James Hadfield, Greg McGrath, James Scott, Macauley Cook (capt), Max Argyle, Josh Gray, Alun Lawrence.
Replacement forwards: Eoghan Clarke, Antonio ‘TJ’ Harris, Greg McGrath, Steve Longwell, Monty Weatherby, James Dun, Lewis Wynne.
Replacement backs: James Elliott, Jonny Law, Brendan Cope, Russell Bennett, Ryan Hutler, Jordan Holgate, Charlie Powell, Tomi Lewis, Scott Van Breda.
Why not come a chillout in the supporters marquee before the game, A fully stocked bar and food is available, seated and standing tables, on a first come first served basis and a great place to meet the Reds supporters.