- England Counties open tour with win
- Young side deals with physical Rock encounter
The Rock, Newfoundland 6 England Counties 20
England Counties opened their three-match tour of Canada with a hard-fought 20-6 victory over a resolute and physical Newfoundland Rock side in bleak conditions at The Swilers club in St John's.
The hosts were just as combative and rugged as they promised to be in difficult cold and wet conditions as the Counties had to call on all their reserves of discipline and resolve to cope with a powerful display by the Rock side.
This was the kind of success that Manager Danny Hodgson was hoping for from his relatively fledgling team, which showed a maturity beyond its average age of 22 to deal with a full-frontal effort by the Rock.
Key to success was the ability of the Counties to keep their nerve and shape under extreme pressure and to produce some well-organised defensive patterns on the handful of occasions that their opponents managed a breakthrough or profited from handling errors.
"I'm absolutely delighted," said Manager Hodgson.
"Our discipline was superb, conditions were difficult and we were confronted by a big, physical side, but we played to the conditions and I'm very, very pleased.
"The game and the opposition was exactly what we expected and we came through. It's so important to win you first game and when that win comes against a proper team, the success is so much more valuable"
Coach Dave Baldwin echoed the sentiments when he said: "It's always nice to win and especially when the conditions are as difficult as they were tonight. There were times when we put ourselves under pressure, but our scrambling defence was really good and we kept them out.
"I think had it been dry we might have won by a bigger margin, but it wasn't and we dug it out and got a win when many teams have lost in that situation. There were unforced errors that need to be looked at and improved upon next time, but all 23 players in the squad tonight got a game and they'll be better for having that under their belts going forward."
The key to the Counties success in a game where the energy and combativeness of the forward exchanges never eased was their ability to find a decisive cutting edge.
Two first-half tries from the backs
They managed one second-half try into the wind when flanker Will Fraser finally drove over after sustained forward pressure, while the two first-half tries went to the backs.
The first came after 30 minutes from scrum half Tom Kessell after a powerful surge by the pack, the young Devon No 9 darting away on the blind side to score from close range.
The second try was a fine solo effort from wing Fergus Mulchrone, who produced a jack-hammer hand-off to get into space and then accelerated away for a fine try.
Fly half Ross Winney was off target with a couple of early penalties and was wide with the Kessell conversion attempt, but he then found his range with a penalty after Rock fly half Dean Blanks cut the deficit to 5-3 with a penaly and produced a superb conversion of Mulchrone's try from the touchline to give the Counties a 15-3 interval advantage.
A second penalty from Blanks gave the Rock a glimpse of something positive with the wind at their backs, but the Counties refused to buckle and Fraser's try on 65 minutes gave them a whip hand that they never relinquished.
"There was plenty in the game that we can be proud of," said Rock coach Simon Blanks.
"There was plenty of passion in the way we played and the lads can feel pleased with the way they played what was our first game of the season. We've only been training for a week on grass and while there are issues about our offensive play that we have to address, overall it was a proper man's game with lots to be pleased with on both sides."
The Rock vs England Counties teams
The Rock: Morgan Lovell; Ben Trevorrow, Robert Wilson, Tyler Wish, Geoff Warden; Dean Blanks, Rich O'Malley; Frank Walsh, Peter Densmore capt, Rod Snow, Brad Lester, Sean O'Leary, Tony Wodzicki, Kevin Parfrey, Jeb Sinclair.
Replacements: Chris Burt, Darryl Cross, Owen Parfrey, Phil Alcock, Zac Coughlan, Cyril Bugden, Partrick Parfrey, Jason Picco
England Counties XV: Gareth Collins (Leicester Lions & Warwickshire); Fergus Mulchrone (Macclesfield & Cheshire), Henry Staff (Blackheath & Hertfordshire), Steve Hamilton (Blackheath & Kent), James Tincknell (Wharfedale & Yorkshire);
Ross Winney (Macclesfield & Cheshire), Tom Kessell (Plymouth & Devon); Matt Long (Birmingham Solihull & Gloucestershire), Matt Hall (Blaydon & Northumberland), Craig Voisey (Rotherham & North Midlands), Luke Collins (Redruth & Cornwall), Harry Spencer (Saracens/Bedford Blues & Devon), Mark Wilson (Blaydon & Northumberland), Will Fraser (Saracens & Hertfordshire), Mark Evans (Moseley & North Midlands).
Replacements: Jonny Roddam (Fylde & Lancashire), Gavin Woods (Caldy & Cheshire), Nick Flynn (Sedgley Park & Lancashire), Lewis McGowan (Coventry & Lancashire), Dan Baines (Macclesfield & Lancashire), Will Cliff (Sale & Cheshire), Kyle Dench (Harrogate & Yorkshire), Tom Jarvis (unattached & Gloucestershire).
Referee: Mr Andrew Hall (Ontario)