Reds relish knock-out vibe of Notts clash

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JERSEY REDS head out under the lights tonight knowing that a win will see them through to the semi-finals of the Championship Cup.

It gives their final group stage fixture against Nottingham the knock-out rugby vibe that should add spark to the clash.

There will be a re-jigged backline after last week’s comprehensive cup win against Hartpury University, with scrum-half Toby Venner making his first start after a 51-week injury lay-off.

‘We want to make sure we get the points we need to get through and not leave it up to the results we can’t control,’ said Harvey Biljon.

Reds currently sit second in their pool on 20 points, one point behind Ealing Trailfinders, who face a trip to Hartpury tonight.

They need to finish top or have the best playing record of all the second-placed sides in the three pools to reach the semi.

Currently those spots are occupied by Coventry in Pool B and Ampthill in Pool C, both with 16 points.

Venner featured off the bench last week,

‘Toby has worked very hard to get back to fitness and it was great to get 20-25 minutes last week. Because of the competition at scrum-half it’s great to get him out there to test what he’s got to offer. He’s an exciting player for supporters to come and watch and brings something different to the game.’

Will Brown comes in to start at wing, as Tomi Lewis moves across to full-back following Brendan Owen’s injury at Hartpury. Wing Ryan Hutler, who like Lewis was on the score-sheet at Hartpury, retains his place alongside centre pairing Dan Barnes and Charlie Powell.

Three new faces come into the pack: prop Sam Grahamslaw and hooker Eoghan Clarke will start in the front row alongside Adam Nicol, while Tom Everard is promoted from the bench to second row after some useful impact from the bench at Hartpury, including his first try for the Reds.

Everard’s introduction as James Scott’s engine-room partner means Macauley Cook and Josh Gray step up their shirt numbers to 6 and 7 respectively. Cook will captain the side as skipper Lewis Wynne is rested, while James Dun – another try-scorer at Hartpury – retains the number 8 spot.

The Reds’ bench features a potential debut for new signing Ben Burnell, the young former Cardiff and Pontypridd fly-half who arrived in Jersey a fortnight ago.

Biljon is not underestimating the challenge that Nottingham will bring.

‘They have got some really good speed out wide and a forward pack that wins primary possession. It’s going to be quite a challenge. You don’t look at the Championship table, we know every game is tough. There’s no doubt they will be looking to bounce back after the result against Ealing.’

They lost 71-14 against the pool leaders.

Reds beat them at Lady Bay in the cup in November, 38-12, and then 31-22 in the league five weeks later.

‘I think what’s pretty exciting for the players and the support staff is that we’ve hit knock-out rugby. We know we’ve got the opportunity to get into the semi-final.’

The Rugby Football Union has confirmed that Wasps will return to rugby in the Championship next season.

They were placed into administration earlier in the season after being chased for unpaid tax by HM Revenue and Customs.

Now they have met all the financial requirements put in place by the RFU and it means Biljon will face a club he used to play as scrum-half for.

‘There have been a lot of people working very hard behind the scenes to keep the club alive. Full credit to them for doing that,’ he said.

‘I’m sure they will be ambitious and want to get back into the Premiership. How exciting is it going to be to have a club like that coming to Jersey?’

Biljon played for Wasps from 2000 to 2006 before they moved to Coventry.

‘The club has changed a fair bit, but my personal memories are what a great club to be part of. We won the Premiership, the European Cup, for me it was a great place. It’s a prestigious club. There will always be the doubt about whether they should be offered the opportunity to go down one level or not, but ultimately those are the regulations set up by the RFU.’

Kick off at Stade Santander International is 7.30pm.

Jersey Reds squad (1-15): Sam Grahamslaw, Eoghan Clarke, Adam Nicol, Tom Everard, James Scott, Macauley Cook (c), Josh Gray, James Dun; Toby Venner, Tom Pittman, Will Brown, Dan Barnes, Charlie Powell, Ryan Hutler, Tomi Lewis. Replacements: James Hadfield, Huw Owen, Stevie Longwell, Hallam Chapman, Tim Grey; James Elliott, Ben Burnell, Alex McHenry.

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