Fixture: Jersey Reds vs London Irish
Competition: Pre-season friendly
Date: 27th August 2022
Stadium: Stade Santander International
Another fixture, another new season- London Irish are back in action this forthcoming Saturday for a trip to the Channel Islands to face Championship side Jersey Reds in the Club’s first pre-season friendly.
The Exiles return to St. Peter for the first time since a spell in the Championship in the 2018/19 season, where honours were even, each a home win, in a split of league meetings that campaign.
Having finished last season in fourth, Jersey achieved their highest league positioning since Irish’s departure from the second tier after back-to-back sixth-place finishes.
Reds amassed their highest points haul in the Championship (69 points) since their promotion to the division a decade ago, with their biggest winning margins coming against capital side London Scottish both in the league (40 points) and cup (47) competitions.
Harvey Biljon, coach in Jersey since midway through the 2013/14 season, recently committed to a seven-year deal at the Stade Santander International.
The island took on current Gallagher Premiership champions Leicester Tigers on home soil last weekend, and following on from a 7-17 loss last season, ran the Midlanders close in a 26-35 defeat.
The boss- Harvey Biljon:
Upon conclusion of the 2021/22 season, Biljon committed to the aforementioned lengthy deal to keep him at the Championship Club until the summer of 2029.
The 45-year-old, a previous attack coach at another second-tier outfit Cornish Pirates before his time in Jersey, led Reds to their best ever finish in the Championship last term and into the top four.
He navigated the Club past relegation relegation in the 2013/14 term with a 41-31 win over Bedford Blues, going on to attain 3 league and cup wins against Irish in the former’s two spells in the Championship in 2017 and 2018.
A South-African native, he was born in Kariega and represented Natal Sharks’ under-21 side as a youth player.
The former scrum-half spent time as a player in the Premiership as a member of Wasps’ squad, joining in the year 2000 and remaining for six years.
One to Watch- Eoghan Clarke:
Jersey Reds have a points-scoring hooker of their own at their disposal, with Irishman Eoghan Clarke aiding in his Club having the highest points amassed in the Championship outside of champions Ealing Trailfinders (+596).
Clarke touched down 17 times in the 2021/22 Championship, a league-high that was matched only by Championship veteran Mark Bright of Richmond.
The 24-year-old is a former member of the Munster Academy, and moved over when in 2021 upon TJ Harris’ injury but has made a significant impact at the Club since.
He represented his country at under-20 age-grade level and also made five appearances for the Red Army’s A-side.
Classic Encounter: London Irish 42-29 Jersey Reds – 27th November 2016 – Championship
The Exiles put their Channel Island opponents to the sword at the Madejski Stadium in a 42-29 win in Reading back in 2016, but it was former player Guy Armitage who registered the first score of the meeting.
Front-row physicality from David Paice and Richard Palframan via rolling mauls saw Irish reply swiftly, with Paice going on to add a second in the second-half.
An injection of influence from the backs meant wingers Ben Ransom and Tom Fowlie got in on the act for Irish but Jersey did not walk away empty handed, nonetheless.
Marc Thomas, Nick Haining and George Watkins all added to Armitage’s earlier score on to bag a try bonus point, with the result making it 10 league wins from an available 10 for Irish at that stage of the season.
Tries: David Paice (2), Richard Palframan, Ben Ransom, Tom Fowlie
Conversions: Tommy Bell (4)
Pens: Tommy Bell (2)
Drop-goal: Tommy Bell
Tries: Guy Armitage, Marc Thomas, George Watkins, Nick Haining
Conversions: Sam Katz (3)
Penalties: Sam Katz
Jersey Reds Head Coach Harvey Biljon was full of praise for both sets of players after his side showed plenty of character to regain a foothold in the second half of a 26-35 loss to Leicester Tigers last weekend.
"A huge amount of character and resilience was shown by all the players," Biljon stated post-match.
"Although it's game one, there's headaches already for the coaches.”
Reds held their Premiership counterparts to one try in the second forty whilst Lewis Wynne, James Hadfield and Ben Woollett, the latter two both debutants, all touched down for the home side.
Biljon looked ahead to the remainder of his side’s pre-season billing, which includes games against the Exiles and also Bath Rugby, and how the schedule will benefit the Championship side ahead of their league campaign.
"It's a happy camp, they're working hard but we've a long way to go.
"We can't get too excited but what an absolute privilege it was to host the Premiership champions here in Jersey and I think we will definitely take a huge amount out of it, and I think they will too.
"It puts us in a great position going into the season- we're definitely going to be tested each week and it's going to be tough again next week with London Irish a team definitely on the up in the Premiership.”