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Summit meeting set to decide destiny of Championship title

21/04/2023

After 20 games across the past seven months, the winners of the 2022/23 RFU Championship should be determined over the course of an 80-minute contest at Stade Santander International this weekend.

Jersey Reds will host Ealing Trailfinders, the holders of the Championship trophy and leaders of the division for almost the entire season to date. The Londoners’ lead their rivals by just a single point, making Saturday’s game a potentially pivotal one in the title race.

Both sides have one more game to follow; Ealing know that a big win could settle the title race straight away before they travel to Doncaster Knights on Saturday April 29th, but the Reds can leap-frog their rivals with victory this weekend and set up a final shot at glory when they host Ampthill seven days later.

The Reds are fully aware of the challenge of taking on a side with long-held ambitions to play top-flight rugby and who have been a fixture in the top two of the Championship for the past six seasons, lifting the trophy for the first time last April. Ealing have dominated encounters between the clubs at level two, but the Reds are on a 12-game unbeaten run during 2023 to date and have not lost a league match on home turf since Ealing won 10-22 at the Stade in February last year.

Director of Rugby Harvey Biljon has largely kept faith with the squad of players who survived a tense, must-win encounter at Bedford Blues last weekend, with the deadlock at Goldington Road broken when Macauley Cook’s try with four minutes to play sealed a 19-26 win.

James Dun’s recovery from illness makes the back row man one of just two players brought into the XXIII, the other being replacement centre Dan Barnes.

Dun is one of five changes to the starting team from the XV which began the win at Bedford, with Biljon and Head Coach Rob Webber also electing to rotate the entire front row, with last week’s 'finishers' Sam Grahamslaw, James Hadfield and Stevie Longwell picked as starters and Greg McGrath, Eoghan Clarke and Adam Nicol set to make an impact off the bench.

The other switch is at scrum-half, with James Mitchell, who supplied the scoring pass for the winning try last Saturday, getting the nod as James Elliott switches to the bench. The other player moving from starting berth to a replacement’s role is back row man Max Argyle, who played his 150th match for the Reds last Saturday after seven seasons on the Island.

The Reds did get the upper hand – narrowly – the last time the sides met, with February’s 28-27 Championship Cup win enabling the Island side to improve their record over their rivals, with both clubs progressing to the knock-out stages of the cup taking place next month.

The two sides have now met 21 times in competitive encounters at level two dating back to 2013. The Reds have achieved three victories during this period, the others being the 35-7 league win on home turf in December 2015 and cup success at Vallis Way by 34-41 in November 2018.

The first two encounters with the Trailfinders during the current season both saw home wins at Vallis Way: 22-13 in the cup in November and 43-22 in the Championship encounter on Christmas Eve.

Relations between the sides date back to the 2010/11 season in National 2 South, when Ealing were promoted as champions, followed by Jersey as play-off winners. The rivalry continued the following year in National 1, when it was the Reds who took the title and reached the Championship a year ahead of the Londoners.

The home side are expecting a bumper crowd for the game and supporters have been urged to allow plenty of time for their journeys ahead of the 2pm kick-off. Buying tickets in advance online [via THIS LINK] is strongly recommended, and while extra parking will be available on pitch 2, bus routes 8, 15 and 22 offer an excellent alternative option to enjoy the day, which will conclude with live music in the Watering Hole marquee.

Saturday’s game, which will be refereed by experienced Premiership official Christophe Ridley, will also be available to watch live via the Championship rugby website, with commentary also available via BBC Radio Jersey.

 

Jersey Reds squad v Ealing Trailfinders (H) – 2022/23 RFU Championship, game 21/22, Stade Santander International, Saturday April 22nd, k-o 2pm

Backs (15-9)
Brendan Owen; Ben Woollett, Alex McHenry, Jordan Holgate, Tomi Lewis; Russell Bennett, James Mitchell.
Forwards (1-8)
Sam Grahamslaw, James Hadfield, Stevie Longwell, Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook, James Dun, Lewis Wynne (capt), Alun Lawrence.

Replacements (16-23)
Eoghan Clarke, Greg McGrath, Adam Nicol, Hamish Bain, Max Argyle; James Elliott, Dan Barnes, Will Brown.

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6 Apr 2024

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12 Oct 2023

THE WATERING HOLE

Why not come and chillout in the ‘Watering Hole’ before the game? A full-bar and food is available and you can enjoy some live music after the game.

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