After the disappointment of being left kicking their heels last weekend, Jersey Reds are back on home turf and hoping to get their league programme back on course.
The Island side will look to maintain a proud home record against a side who are on course for their best-ever finish to a Championship season and have performed well on their travels.
Hartpury University have won seven of their past nine league games to reach fifth in the table, two places above their highest ranking in five previous second-tier campaigns. Trips away from their Gloucestershire back-yard have been fruitful, with five out of nine league wins coming on the road.
Following an unscheduled weekend off resulting from bad weather in Yorkshire and the postponement of the game against Doncaster Knights, the Reds will be hoping for a win to keep in touch with leaders Ealing, who moved six points clear at the top after a big win over London Scottish last weekend.
The home side’s starting XV features four changes from the line-up which began the big win over Caldy at Stade Santander International a fortnight ago, and is set to be led out by Eoghan Clarke and Dan Barnes on the occasion of their 50th appearances for the Reds.
Three changes come among the pack, including two-thirds of the front row, where Adam Nicol and Huw Owen will pack down alongside Clarke. ‘Old firm’ duo Sean O’Connor and Macauley Cook team up in the engine room, while skipper Lewis Wynne and Tim Grey will be joined in the back row by Alun Lawrence, who returns from long-term injury having been out of action since the away game with Hartpury in late October.
A more settled back line sees just one change, as James Elliott is chosen from a competitive clutch of scrum-halves to partner Russell Bennett at half-back. The threequarter line-up bring five tries from the win over Caldy: one each for wings Ben Woollett and Tomi Lewis, plus a hat-trick for Alex McHenry, who partners Barnes at centre. Brendan Owen, who came back from last month’s cup trip to Hartpury with a try and a broken nose, takes the full-back position.
Another back-row man, Max Argyle, is set to join Lawrence in making a return from injury, the Reds’ longest-serving player looking to make an impact from the bench in what would be his first action since Christmas Eve. Argyle lines up as part of a solid home bench, with all but one of the players having played in at least nine Championship matches thus far this season - James Hadfield (six) being the exception.
There have been 15 encounters with the Reds since Hartpury reached the second tier in 2017, including six Championship Cup clashes. The Gloucestershire side claimed their lone win over the Reds by 7-10 in the league match at the Stade in March 2019, and also claimed a 19-all draw in the first leg of the Championship Cup quarter-final last season before being beaten 30-14 in the second leg the following week.
In the Championship match at Hartpury last October, the teams were evenly-matched. The Reds led 0-12 at the break, but the home side rallied while having a player in the sin-bin soon after the resumption and pulled the deficit back to just two points. But the visitors struck twice through McHenry and Lewis and eventually won 17-27.
A brace of cup encounters this season brought wins for the Reds by 55-24 on home turf in November, and by 7-47 in Gloucestershire last month.
Following the Hartpury clash, the Reds will travel to south-west London to take on Richmond on Saturday March 25th, returning to the Stade for a home game against Nottingham on Saturday April 1st (k-o 3pm).
Jersey Reds squad v Hartpury University (H) – 2022/23 RFU Championship, game 16/22, Stade Santander International, Saturday March 18th, k-o 2pm
Brendan Owen; Ben Woollett, Alex McHenry, Dan Barnes, Tomi Lewis; Russell Bennett, James Elliott.
Huw Owen, Eoghan Clarke, Adam Nicol, Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook, Tim Grey, Lewis Wynne (capt), Alun Lawrence.
James Hadfield, Sam Grahamslaw, Stevie Longwell, James Dun, Max Argyle; James Mitchell, Jordan Holgate, Will Brown.
18 May 2023
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