CHALLENGES off the field will be just as big as those on the pitch – that is the feeling of Jersey Reds chief Harvey Biljon ahead of Boxing Day’s clash in Bedford.
The Reds director of rugby feels they face some extra hurdles around same-day travel, increased Covid restrictions and a capacity 5,000-strong crowd which will put extra pressure on both players and staff.
A win against the Blues would see the Islanders re-take the lead of the Championship table and Harvey is honest about the difficulties they face, pleased with their approach and believes the players will feel motivated come kick-off.
‘Pressure does funny things and there’s expectation where people see us going to Bedford and just winning the game. We don’t feel that way,’ said Harvey.
‘There’s a lot of other challenges and hurdles that’s been put in front of us. Getting there with Christmas and everything that goes with that, being away from families but still having to travel on Boxing Day to get there together as a team.
‘At the same time I trust that will galvanise us and put us in a great position to do ourselves and all islanders proud. Take the results out of it, I know we’re going to get a great game of rugby and a real quality performance from our guys.
‘We don’t often travel on the same day because it’s difficult, you’re waiting on flights, coaches and everything else. It’s a pretty disrupted travel. But we don’t have an option, we can’t travel on Christmas Day so we’ve just got to get there on Boxing Day and get on with it.
‘We’ve looked at all things we can control and things we can’t, so let’s focus on what we can do and go and enjoy the fixture.’
Reds go into Sunday’s game enjoying – so far – their best ever season and sit second in rugby union’s second tier, with a decent shot at promotion.
Harvey has made three changes to the side that beat London Scottish 31-13 last Saturday. Jack Roberts comes in for the injured Dan Barnes at 13, flyhalf Sam Leeming demoting Tom Pittman back to the bench and Wesley White starting at number 8 with Alex Humfrey making way.
‘Bedford have a few things planned for Boxing Day, there’s no doubt about that,’ said Biljon. ‘They’ve had a week off and haven’t shown their hand which means they’ll be coming up with a few things we’ve got to be prepared for.’
nKick-off is at 3pm and can be watched live via bedfordrugby.co.uk/tickets
Squad (15-9; 1-8): Brendan Owen; Ryan Olowofela, Jack Roberts, Jordan Holgate, Will Brown; Sam Leeming, James Elliott; James Flynn, Eoghan Clarke, Steve Longwell, Sean O’Connor, Macauley Cook, Max Argyle, Lewis Wynne (c), Wes White. Replacements: Harry Doolan, Roy Godfrey, Luke Yendle, Tom Everard, Alex Humfrey; James Mitchell, Tom Pittman, Harry Simmons.
On selection Harvey said: ‘Its been pretty tough, if I’m watching the last training sessions right up until I announce the teams, you know selection is going to be tight. I’m literally watching every moment of training and debating it with the coaches, so you know how tough selection is.
‘I’d be confident whether its Alex Humfrey starting or one of the other back-row forwards. Wes White has credit in the bank so he comes in and we think this game suits him.
‘Tom Pittman and Sam Leeming, that battle is getting the best out of both of those players and its fantastic to have the luxury that we have someone like Jack Roberts who can come in and just fit straight into the midfield role with Barnes not available due to injury.’
Despite Jersey being favourites, Bedford Blues will be looking for revenge from last season’s defeat in a fixture that is historically a nail-biter. And Bedford, fifth in the table, have scored more points in games out of the two this season and are coming back from a rest week.