- Cosmopolitan Counties maintain tradition
- 14 newcomers from 13 clubs at Stourbridge
The England Counties XV selectors have included players from 13 different clubs in their side to face the AIB Ireland Club XV at Stourbridge RFC on Friday night (7.30).
And in keeping with tradition, they have again chosen a strong contingent of players who will be making their debuts at this level.
The make-up of the squad also underlines the diversity of Counties XV rugby, the representative flagship of the County and Community game, with 14 newcomers in the line-up.
Only Jack Harrison and new captain Tom Bason survive from the corresponding game in Dublin last year and only Messrs Harrison, Parsons, Richardson, Graham and Owen were in the squad that toured Korea and Japan last summer.
Groin injuries to flanker Sam Stitcher (Esher) and Ben Gerry (Stourbridge) ruled them out after being included in the squad - although they will be in contention for places in the game against France Amateurs in March - with Matt Hall and Alex Nash being promoted to the bench.
"I’m especially pleased to see so many new faces in the squad because it reflects on the support we’ve had from the clubs and their Directors of Rugby," says Manager Danny Hodgson.
"All 48 clubs in National Division One and Divisions Two North and South have got behind us and were nominating players early in the season. We managed to look at all of them before the bad weather started to impact of the programme and we saw some very talented players, hence the new faces.
"The selection of Tom Bason as captain basically stems from his experience as a member of the Counties set-up previously and the fact that he is captaining Blackheath. He knows what the job entails and he’s well aware of what we are about as a team.
"He’ll do well and I’m looking forward enormously to seeing another band of newcomers working together with the lads who have been with the Counties before. Ireland will be a tough challenge and we’ll need to be on our game if we are to get our first win against them, but I’m confident we’ll do well."
England Counties XV to face AIB Ireland Club XV
Frankie Neale (London Scottish); Sam Ulph (Esher), Jack Harrison (Tynedale), Seb Jewell (Esher), David Howells (London Scottish); James Brown (London Scottish), Luke Baldwin (Blackheath); John Williams (Tynedale), Joe Graham (Tynedale), Sam Heard (Redruth), Matt Owen (Macclesfield), Tom Bason (Blackheath), capt, Dan Legge (Cambridge), Darren Fox (Cambridge), Tom Powell (Cambridge).
Replacements:Matt Hall (Blaydon), Tom Warren (Esher), Ben Harris (Huddersfield), Alex Nash (Rugby Lions), Tom Richardson (Stourbridge), Matt Riley (Sedgley Park), Steve Parsons (Harrogate).