The two pace-setters in this season’s RFU Championship are set to go head-to-head in a Christmas cracker of a fixture in west London, streamed live to an online audience.
Jersey Reds and Ealing Trailfinders are both unbeaten in the league so far this season, with the Reds leading the table as a result of their rivals having to kick their heels last weekend as their away game at Caldy fell victim to the weather.
Both clubs last tasted defeat in a league match on the final weekend of February, when Trailfinders were turned over at home by Doncaster Knights and the Reds were beaten by Cornish Pirates at the Mennaye.
Since that point, the two sides have racked up winning league runs of 13 games (for the hosts) and 12 (for the visitors). In all competitive games, Ealing’s winning run over the past seven months stretches to 20, while the Reds have drawn one and lost two in the Championship Cup during this period, including a 22-13 loss at Vallis Way five weeks ago.
Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon makes six changes to his starting XV from the line-up selected for last Saturday’s convincing 45-5 win over Bedford Blues.
Half of the new faces are in the three-quarters, with Jordan Holgate and Alex McHenry resuming their centre partnership and Ben Woollett selected at wing. James Mitchell will start at scrum-half, having featured as a replacement last Saturday.
The only changes to the forwards see Sean O’Connor back into the second row alongside Macauley Cook, while James Dun returns to the starting line-up after making an impact from the bench against Bedford. The on-loan Bristol man’s returns triggers a back row reshuffle that sees Max Argyle move to number 8 and Tom Grey switch to the bench.
Cook and O’Connor are both set to make their 50th appearance for the Reds, with a half-century also looming for hooker TJ Harris when he is introduced from the bench.
The Reds will not be lacking motivation for this fixture: as well as the incentive of retaining their position at the top of the table, Biljon’s side will want to atone for a poor Championship record against Ealing. The two sides have met 15 times in league encounters at this level dating back to 2013, but the 35-7 win on home turf in December 2015 remains the lone Jersey win, with one further success from four Championship Cup encounters.
During last season, the Reds gave a good account of themselves at Vallis Way when the two sides met in November (2021), leading narrowly at half-time before eventually going down 35-29 and having to settle for two bonus points. February’s return fixture at Stade Santander International also saw a narrow lead for the Reds at the break, but Jan Henning Campher’s try and 17 points from the boot of Craig Willis enabled the visitors to eventually take the spoils by 10-22.
Relations between the sides dates back to the 2010/11 season in National 2 South, when Ealing were promoted as champions, followed by Jersey soon afterwards as play-off winners. The rivalry continued the following year in National 1, when it was the Reds who took the title and were first to reach the ‘promised land’ of the Championship.
Jersey Reds squad v Ealing Trailfinders (A) – 2022/23 RFU Championship, game 11/22, Trailfinders Sportsground, Vallis Way, Saturday December 24th, k-o 12noon
Brendan Owen; Ben Woollett, Alex McHenry, Jordan Holgate, Tomi Lewis; Russell Bennett, James Mitchell.
Sam Grahamslaw, Eoghan Clarke, Steve Longwell, Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook, James Dun, Lewis Wynne (capt), Max Argyle.
TJ Harris, Greg McGrath, Adam Nicol, Hamish Bain, Tim Grey; James Elliott, Charlie Powell, Will Brown.
03 Feb 2023
Home side look to improve poor record over London rivals