ISLANDERS are being urged to step up to the role of ‘16th player’ as Jersey Reds prepare for one of the biggest games in the club’s history this weekend.
The Reds face Ealing Trailfinders on home turf tomorrow in a game likely to decide which side will finish top of the RFU Championship, the second tier of the English structure in which the Island side have competed since the late 1980s.
But even if the Reds are top of the table, there will be no promotion due to Premiership rules.
With just one game to follow on 29 April, the visitors from London will arrive with a lead of just a single point over the Reds, and with ambitions to retain the silverware they first won a year ago. Tomorrow’s winner will be in pole position to lift the Championship trophy a week later.
The home side are in uncharted territory after 11 seasons in the Championship and a previous highest finish of fourth, leaving chair Mark Morgan hopeful that home support will play a significant role.
He said: ‘We saw last Saturday [when the Reds narrowly overcame fourth-placed Bedford Blues to set up the pivotal tie with Ealing] how the crowd can play a role.
‘Bedford are renowned for their passionate home support, and there was real pressure going into the game – they made it really hard for us. But having got past Blues I’d expect the pressure to be on Ealing this weekend.’
Mr Morgan said that he expected the largest crowd of the season at Stade Santander International.
‘The advance ticket sales are already pointing well above 2,000, and anecdotally I’m aware that lots of people who aren’t regular supporters have marked this date in their diaries,’ he said. ‘Ealing are coming mob-handed with around 90 in their official group, and around 250 tickets sold to London postcodes, so we hope they’ll be outnumbered and that our supporters will be the “16th player”, wearing red and ready to make some noise.’
The match has attracted significant interest from the national media, with coverage focusing on the fact that neither side is eligible for promotion to the top tier of the English game – the Gallagher Premiership.
Mr Morgan said that while he could understand the frustration about the pathway to the top level being closed at present, there was still a massive amount at stake.
He said: ‘We didn’t take part in the audit for promotion, and won’t be doing that until there is absolute clarity around the structure and equity of funding for clubs in the Premiership. Hopefully that position will be made clearer over the next month or two ahead of a new agreement for the professional game, which is due to be in place by summer 2024.
‘But for now this is the pinnacle of sport for Jersey – it’s an incredible thing for the Island, and the club, and I hope people will recognise that and get behind the home team.’
nRise of the Reds – see news focus, pages 8-9nTeam news – see Sport, pages 54-56