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Jersey Reds: World Cup caps depart, but Tongan ‘Kuki’ remains

Rugby | Published:

WORLD CUP internationals Janco Venter and Leeroy Atalifo are among 19 players who will not be returning to St Peter for Jersey Reds next season.

Apakuki Ma'afu – who missed the entire league season through injury, after being named club captain – is among those to have re-signed for Jersey Reds for 2020/21 Picture: ROB CURRIE

The Championship club have made their first announcement concerning the make-up of their squad for the 2020/21 campaign, including confirmation that 15 of the existing playing staff are remaining on the books.

Former Tonga international Apakuki Ma’afu – named club captain last August, before missing the entire league season with a knee injury – is set to battle from Jersey’s corner once again, while director of rugby Harvey Biljon has maintained a strong degree of consistency in his pack, with ten players staying put. Max Argyle, Josh Bainbridge, Rory Bartle, Kyle Hatherell and Jake Upfield are all included, as are the likes of hookers Jack Macfarlane and Antonio ‘TJ’ Harris, who was voted Championship hooker of the season via the league’s Twitter account.

Scrum-half Luc Jones could yet be added to the list of those retained, although discussions are ongoing.

Biljon, who expects to announce up to 20 new signings in the coming weeks, said: ‘It’s important to have a bit of consistency but I am very excited about the new squad, with the guys who are coming in. We’ve got a great balance of backs and forwards and the guys who are staying complement that.

‘It’s great to see players like “Kuki” [Ma’afu] staying. He has worked tremendously hard since he picked up that injury against Scarlets in pre-season and he would have just about been there on fitness for the end of this season. He will be raring to go once pre-season starts.’

Funding cuts from the RFU are set to make life increasingly difficult for Championship clubs next season but Biljon says Reds fans will not see a significant drop when it comes to head counting.

‘I think once the squad is completely finalised, and we’re just about there, we’ll have 34 or 35 players,’ he explained. ‘It’s pretty tough to work underneath that, if I’m honest, because of the specialist positions. We’ll be pretty much on the line, which is fine.’

Despite officially being under contract with the Reds until the end of May, but no longer here due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a handful of popular names have signed with top-grade clubs while others are due to join Jersey’s second-tier rivals.

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Fiji prop Atalifo’s switch to Pro14 club Edinburgh comes alongside rumours that Namibia number 8 Venter has signed for Championship-bound giants Saracens, while scrum-half Will Homer is understood to have agreed a deal to follow Newcastle Falcons up to the Premiership. Prop Alec Clarey has been linked with Gloucester, Newcastle and Saracens in recent months, while Doncaster Knights are believed to have lured at least three others away from Stade Santander. Leroy Van Dam has already been unveiled by French D2 side Stade Aurillacois and Auguy Slowik is also thought to have tied down his future in France. Two loan signings have departed, after spending the majority of the season in Jersey – Sale hooker Nic Dolly and Gloucester wing Alex Morgan.

Biljon plans to restart training on 1 July, although that will be dependent on government and RFU health guidance.

Staying at Stade Santander

Hooker: TJ Harris, Jack Macfarlane. Prop: Ziana Alexis, Dan Richardson, Roy Godfrey. Lock and back row: Max Argyle, Josh Bainbridge, Rory Bartle, Kyle Hatherell, Jake Upfield. Fly-half: Brendan Cope. Centre: Apakuki Ma’afu, George Spencer. Wing/full-back: Brendan Owen, Tom Williams.

Leaving the Reds

Prop: Leeroy Atalifo, Alec Clarey, Harry Morley, James Wayland. Lock: Charlie Beckett, Liam Hallam-Eames. Back row: Conor Joyce, Janco Venter, George Willmott. Scrum-half: Will Homer, Liam Howley. Fly-half: Aaron Penberthy, Greg Dyer. Centre: Mark Best, Rodney Iona, James Newey. Wing: Auguy Slowik, Jack Stapley, Leroy Van Dam.

Jason Fox

By Jason Fox
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