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Tour blog – England Counties Corner II

04 June 2010

  • All the latest from the Counties tour of Canada
  • Danny Hodgson's men all set to face The Rock is with the England Counties team on their three-match tour of Canada and our man Tony Simpson keeps up to date with all the latest news, challenges and escapades ahead of today's game against the formidably named side, The Rock.

Counties manager Danny Hodgson (left) and Dr Pat Parfrey together at a reception for the tourists

Photo: RFU Archive

It might be best to get the history lesson out of the way, not least because St John's, Newfoundland, where England Counties XV play their first game against The Rock today (Friday, June 4), is a very special place.

First up, it's the oldest city in North America, discovered by John Cabot on St John's Day, 1497 and later settled in 1528 by a West Country merchant called Bute.

A supplementary factoid is that Cabot was sponsored on his journey by a Bristol man named Richard Amerike, who some people think deserves more of the credit for naming the continent than Amerigo Vespucci, who seems to get the lion's share.

Formal links with Britain were maintained until March 31, 1949, at which point Newfoundland joined the Canadian Federation, although there seems to be a very strongly held opinion in these parts that Newfoundland hasn't really joined anybody.

'Newfies' are their own people – no doubt about it – and they seem to have latched on to all the characteristics that make them kind and generous hosts.

Students of IT history will know that one important link for which the place is famous was connected in 1901 when Gugliemo Marconi managed to establish the first trans-Atlantic telegraphic link with Poldhu in Cornwall.

A kite flying at 394 feet did the trick and three dots – morse for 'S' – was the historic message.

Strange then, that my television in Room 202, a couple of miles from Signal Hill, where Marconi did the business, opens with an on-screen message that an 'Unusable signal' is being received and programmes cannot be shown!

Today's game is to be played at The Swilers RUFC ground, which is one of only four clubs on the island. 'The Island' and its co-province Labrador, incidentally, is twice the size of the UK in area, but has only 510,000 people, not many of whom play rugby.

Expecting a full-on scrap...

However, such is the mentality of a proud and hugely passionate group of people that they punch well above their weight and no-one in the Counties camp is expecting anything other than a full-on scrap today.

'Swilers' is the vernacular in these parts for seal hunters, but maybe its best not to go there.

Pre-opening game liquid celebrations have been absent from the itinerary, although there was one glass raised in toast to a sporting success. Richard Hodgson, son of tour manager Danny, completed a solo John O’Groats to Lands End cycling ride earlier this week, with anxieties on this side of 'the pond' as he approached the challenging closing stages in Cornwall.

All of which made his completion of the challenge, for cancer treatment at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, all the more joyous at this end.

Forewarned though we were about the generosity of Rock coach Dr Pat Parfrey, it was still very difficult not to be led astray when the entire tour party were hosted at his house on Wednesday night.

A former Ireland international, London Irish coach and player and a member of the Munster team that drew with the All Blacks in 1973, he is a living legend in this part of the world – and much further afield - for his excellence in the field of medicine, notably in his work on kidney research.

His eminence as a medical man, however, has not eroded his passion for rugby union, which he wears on his sleeve with pride and conviction, characteristics which are often revealed in a very direct and colourful vocabulary.

As a provider of hospitality, however, his talents match the lofty levels of his medical achievements and there were a few heads – among the management it must be stressed – to attest to the calibre of his wine cellar and his generosity when dawn broke the morning after.

Stay bang up to date with how our Counties side is doing - visit our England Counties news section for all the latest.