THE England Counties XV, the representative flagship of the County Championship and the game outside the Premiership, has remained true to its traditions by casting their net far and wide in selecting a squad of 26 players for a three-match tour to Spain from June 1/12, 2011.
The squad contains 17 players who will be on tour with the Counties XV for the first time; players from 12 of the 14 Counties involved in the Bill Beaumont Cup are represented; and 22 different clubs are in the squad.
The party contains two players – No 8 Ben Sparks and fly-half Aaron Penberthy – who played in the inaugural England Counties Under 20 match against Scotland Under 20s in Leeds recently and also includes England Students lock Richard Boyle.
“It’s fantastic to see young players progression through the England Community game and getting their chance in representative teams,” said Team Manager Mike Old: “The Counties XV has always had a blend of young players and more seasoned campaigners and the presence of these two youngsters maintains that trend.”
At the more senior end of the party is North Midlands fly-half Ollie Thomas, who made his debut for the Counties XV in 2005. The changing nature of the squad is underlined by thefact that there are only five survivors from last year’s Canada tour and four from the game against the Ulster Bank Club International Team in March.
“One of the most pleasing aspects of the selection process is that despite the disruption to the league programme the quality of the County Championship this year has improved week on week.” said Old. “Contenders for the squad have been watched throughout the season by a team of selectors, but involvement in the Bill Beaumont Cup remains a key component of the selection process and form in that competition has shaped the selection process.
“Even with the extension of the club season, all the players involved have represented their Counties, the only exceptions being Ben Sparks and Gareth Collins, who both made themselves available for senior county selection for Gloucestershire and Warwickshire respectively, but was unable to play owing to Under 20 and Leicester Lions club commitments. Both counties were happy for their names to go forward for inclusion.
“We’ve had huge support from county coaches and committees recommending players and our selectors have considered a wide range of players from all parts of the country. However, owing to the over-running of the league season some strong candidates could not be considered for the squad for a variety of reasons, among them injuries, matrimonial commitments and work issues which prevent them from being involved.
“That said, the quality of the players representing their Counties has meant that we do not see any real effect on the quality of the composition of the squad. As always, we have an interesting balance of players, both young and more experienced, and it’s a great group of talent that will give coaches Dave Baldwin and Jan Bonney some excellent material to work with as they prepare to take on two Spanish districts before we tackle the Spanish national team.”
The tour will include games against a Madrid XV (Saturday, June 4 in Madrid), a Castilla Leon Union XV (Wednesday, June 8 in Salamanca) and a match against a Spain XV (June 11 in Valladolid).
The Spanish are currently 23rd in the International Rugby Board rankings behind Namibia and ahead of Chile and are currently in the news for having a side in the Hong Kong sevens for the first time since 2009. They played in the World Cup in 1999 and currently have 20,016 players registered with 220 clubs.
England Counties have met the Spanish national side once previously. Both took part in a FIRA Festival in South West France in 2007, when the Counties were 21-15 winners in Morlaas.
The England Counties squad is:
Forwards: Rob Baldwin (Wharfedale & Yorkshire), Richard Boyle (Tynedale & Northumberland), Matt Hall (Blaydon & Northumberland), Ben Hilton (Launceston & Cornwall), Martin Kent (Macclesfield & Cheshire), Aaron Myers (Westoe & Durham), Steve Pape (Rosslyn Park & Somerset), Jack Preece (Birmingham Solihull & Gloucestershire), Rob Schillaci (Hertford & Hertfordshire), Ben Sparks (Stourbridge & Gloucestershire), Tom Stradwick (Henley & Kent), Tommy Taylor (Sale Jets & Cheshire), Craig Voisey (Moseley & North Midlands), Gavin Woods ( Caldy & Cheshire).
Backs: Ollie Brennand (Fylde & Lancashire), Gareth Collins (Leicester Lions & Warwickshire), Steve Hamilton (Rotherham & Kent), Peter Hodgkinson (Ealing & Cheshire), Tom Hughes (Preston Grasshoppers & Lancashire), Cameron Mitchell (Plymouth Albion & North Midlands), Charlie Mulchrone (Macclesfield & Cheshire), Fergus Mulchrone (unattached & Cheshire), Harry Peck (Tynedale & Northumberland), Aaron Penberthy (Redruth & Cornwall), Ollie Thomas (Moseley & North Midlands), Curtis Wilson (Leeds & Yorkshire).