Jersey Reds v Doncaster Knights: Trip to Jersey is a ‘must-win’ if Doncaster is to claim the league title

Back: Billy McBryde claims the back shirt for Doncaster Knights’ trip to the Jersey Reds this afternoon. Photo: Andrew Roe

IF the Doncaster Knights have any ambition to finish top of the Championship this season, they know victory at the Jersey Reds this afternoon is imperative.

Head Coach Steve Boden doesn’t have to say that; a look at the painting shows it perfectly.

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Doncaster were leaders at the start of the year but are fully aware that they have played more games than any of their title rivals.

Difficult: Coach Steve Boden knows it will be difficult for Doncaster to win in Jersey. Photo Bruce Rollinson

Promotion favorites Ealing Trailfinders reclaimed top spot last night with a 34-21 win at Nottingham and, after this weekend, they will still have two games in hand against the Knights.

Moreover, third-placed Jersey are just two points behind the Castle Park side and still have a game to catch up.

In reality, then, with Cornish Pirates just three points behind and two games less, the Knights can ill afford to lose again this season.

Admittedly, it’s a tough proposition, but the South Yorkshire club – who are said to have asked to join the Premiership if they finish first – will not hesitate.

Key player: Sam Olver is the starter for the Knights. Photo Tony Johnson

They have won eight of their last nine games, a run that began with a 27-24 win over Jersey at Castle Park in October and included a famous win over Ealing with their only setback a defeat at Cornish.

Boden insisted: “We’re just going to see where we can grow as a team.

“We’ve done some good things recently, so it’s about seeing where we can improve. We always focus on ourselves.

“We’ve highlighted some areas that we know we need to be good at against Jersey this week to try and neutralize them because they’re a very good team.

“It will be difficult to do, but we will focus on ourselves as much as possible.”

Admittedly, Jersey had some problems on the eve of the match with the announcement yesterday that their director of rugby Harvey Biljon has been banned by the RFU and will not be able to be with the squad on matchday.

He was suspended for a week on Thursday night after being charged with conduct detrimental to the interests of the union and the game, relating to comments made to the match official following Jersey’s surprise Boxing Day loss to the Blues of Bedford.

That said, one would expect the Channel Islanders to be able to shrug this off, especially since they are also so keen to respond to what was only a third loss of the season,

Boden has made seven changes to the starting XV since Doncaster’s last outing, the Boxing Day win at the London Scottish on Boxing Day.

Lock Ben Murphy replaces the injured John Kelly while returning club captain Sam Graham takes the place of Guido Volpi at the opener with Sam Hudson on the opposite flank.

Fullback Billy McBryde collects his jersey from Harry Davey as Sam Olver returns to fly-half, Kyle Evans and Maliq Holden are on the wings as Jack Spittle is injured while Mark Best and Joe Margetts form the central partnership.

On the bench, prop Charlie Connolly, signed from Chinnor RFC this week to replace Gaz Denman who is currently out with a neck injury, could make his debut.

Connolly joined the team until the end of the season and previously played in the United States with the Houston Sabercats MLR franchise.

Boden said: “We’ve known Charlie for a few months, but he wasn’t available when he was playing in America.

“So when he became available, given the ongoing injury issues we’ve had this season, it felt like the time was right to strengthen our ranks in that area. We’re delighted to see how he performs. with a Knights jersey because we think his style of play will allow him to contribute well to our team.

Meanwhile, Doncaster’s home game against Bedford – originally scheduled for the New Year but canceled due to Covid cases in the visitors’ camp – has been postponed until Saturday February 5 (2.30pm).

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