Former London Welsh boss Burnell identified the ambitious Islanders as “dark horses” for the title race, telling TRP: “Jersey are a good side and they’ve recruited well, so they’re definitely improving and I think they’ll threaten that top four.
“Harvey Biljon is a very good coach and they were the only side other than Bristol to beat Worcester last season, so I’d mark them down as dark horses.”
Jersey recruits include ex-Bath winger Richard Lane, former Ulstermen Charlie Butterworth and Ross Adair and back rower Tommy Spinks, from Glasgow, but Biljon warns not to expect miracles during only his second full season in charge.
The Islanders finished seventh last time and ex-Wasps scrum-half Biljon told TRP: “We set very high standards, which is absolutely right, but I’d tell any of our supporters to expect more of the same and it’s going to be another rollercoaster ride.
“People must remember that 15 new players have come in and it’s going to be another transitional season with players coming together and learning.
“We stabilised in the Championship last year and need to continue that this year, but I’d like to think that at the end of this coming season there’ll be just five or six players moving in and out as the team starts to settle down and develop.”
Jersey have reduced the age profile of their squad and tough taskmaster Biljon had his men back in pre-season training a fortnight ago to start preparations.
He explained: “If you look at the age of our guys, a lot of them are young so they’ve not yet fully developed from a ‘man strength’ perspective.
“Yes, they’re strong and can lift things in the gym, but you’ve got guys of 20 or 21 who are still developing as men, so things like leg strength and speed have to improve and it can take one, two or three years to reach the standard required.
“We got the guys in early and it doesn’t mean they’ll be 100 per cent this season, but it’s important to begin the process now. They’ve all got the right attitude and although we’ve not seen any rugby work yet, their approach has been outstanding.”
While Biljon plays down his own team’s play-off chances, he is tipping Championship newcomers Ealing to be the division’s shock troops.
The Vallis Way outfit have spent big, and Biljon declared: “I can’t believe Ealing are not going to be a top four team with what they’ve recruited.
“If you look at the combination of experience and where many of them have been playing, in the Premiership or elsewhere, they’ll be a formidable outfit.
“And if you look at the other main challengers, you’ve got Bristol, Yorkshire Carnegie, London Welsh, London Scottish and Rotherham, where I think new head coach Mark Jones will be an exciting addition with all his experience from Wales.”
Jersey, meanwhile, are seeking to address a dearth of local talent in their first team ranks.
Biljon added: “We’ve got a couple of local guys in Jack Burroughs and Ed Dawson, but traditionally guys have come through our Colts and left the island to study.
“But for the first time, in conjunction with Highlands College, we’re operating a scheme where a guy can do his degree while training and playing professionally.
“It has to be an ambition of the club to bring through local players and while we’re unlikely to get 15 Jersey-born boys representing the first team, it’s a start.”
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