STRONGER in-house competition than ever before appears to be bearing fruit as Jersey Reds push to extend what is already a record opening run in the second fight of English rugby.
The Islanders claimed a third early-season win on the bounce with a nine-try thumping of London Scottish and centre Dan Barnes has attributed the club’s best ever Championship start to the fact that the latest crop of players have team-mates ‘down your neck’ and fighting for shirts.
Barnes was one of nine introductions to the starting XV for Saturday’s trip to the Richmond Athletic Ground, following identical line-ups for the opening two matches of 2022/23.
The Reds’ 55-21 victory, which featured six tries in 18 second-half minutes, keeps them ahead of defending champions Ealing Trailfinders – on score difference – with a key home clash with Cornish Pirates looming this Friday.
‘It was very important for me,’ said try-scorer Barnes, discussing his performance.
‘We’ve not just got a bigger squad this season, its not just numbers. Both Harvey [Biljon, director of rugby] and Rob Webber [head coach] have mentioned it in recent weeks, that every player in the squad has the ability to start a Championship game.
‘In training and games you’ve got to put your hand up as there’s people down your neck trying to get that starting position so whether I’m at 12 or 13, that’s what I tried to do.’
He added: ‘I felt I was a little bit rusty after missing out in recent weeks with an injury so for me it was great to come back and get the win.
‘We dug deep and it was tougher than it looked before it all came good in the second half.’
Meanwhile, words have never been needed so little to describe Biljon’s delight after watching his side claim another bonus-point win.
The South African cut a cool figure as his first real roll of the dice this season paid off in fine fashion.
Scottish, despite being without eight Harlequins dual-registered players, was a potential banana skin as he rotated his players.
Jersey were only five ahead at 12-7 at half time.
‘It was a very spirited London Scottish side that we came up against and you could see the fight they had in that first half,’ said Biljon.
‘What’s really pleasing is the way the players responded at half time to come out and see the game out, away from home, and it showed in that little bit of edge and finishing which we missed in the first half, we brought through in the second.
‘It was calm in the dressing room at half time, there were some clear messages, and we just needed to convert that territory into scores. We showed great patience and we knew the crack would come; we just needed to buy our time.
‘Thankfully for us it took a bit of wind out of Scottish’s sails.’