- Counties side remain undefeated in Canada
- I was a nervous wreck in the closing stages - Danny Hodgson
Ontario Blues 26 England Counties 32
England Counties maintained their unbeaten record in Canada when they claimed the second win of their three-match tour against Ontario Blues in Toronto.
But once again the tourists found themselves sorely tested by energetic and very skilful opposition, who fully lived up to their reputation for enterprising rugby and had the Counties nerves jangling to the bitter end.
Had the tourists shown less naivety in the closing stages they might have won with something to spare, but instead they were always looking to add to their try tally and it made for very nervous watching.
There was no hint of the topsy-turvy game to follow when the Counties came out of the blocks at pace to take a 10-0 lead in just six minutes. Once again young scrum-half Tom Kessell was on the scoresheet, supporting a smart break by fly half Paul Humphries to slip through near the posts.
Full back Tom Jarvis converted and added a penalty, but the setbacks did not faze the Blues, who settled into the challenge and cut the deficit when prop Dan Pletch was driven over from a lineout.
Fly half Steve Piatek converted and then made the Counties pay for their indescretions when he landed three penalties to put his side 16-10 ahead at the interval.
With the wind in their favour and some strong direction from the coaching staff at the break, the Counties set about repairing the situation with a more focused and more organised approach in the second-half, a try from a driving maul by prop Gavin Woods, converted by Humphries, edging them infront.
Humphries on form for Counties
Humphries then supplied a perfectly weighted kick for Jarvis to gather at full-speed to give the Counties a 22-16 lead, but any hopes that the Blues might buckle were quickly dispelled when scrum half Adam Schouten stretched over and Piatek goaled to put the home side ahead again at 23-22.
The indomitable Humphries then served up an exquisite pass for flanker Dan Baines to scythe through under the posts, Humphries converting and adding a penalty for a 32-23 lead.
Piatek had the last word when he kicked a penalty after 65 minutes to bring his side within striking distance again, but although the Counties could not keep their hands off the self-destruct button by continuing to play attacking rugby, they held out for the win.
"The Blues came at us strongly in the first-half, as we knew they would, and they were probably stronger up front and more skilful than we were led to believe," said Manager Danny Hodgson, "Going in six points down at half-time was a bit of a worry and I don't know what the coaches said at half-time, but it certainly had an effect.
"We were more composed after the break and I thought the Blues might tire a bit, but they came back again and took us to the wire. I was a nervous wreck in the closing stages and mightily relieved to get the win.
"Overall, though, I thought it was a great game and a great rugby occasion, just what the Counties team is all about in my view. Now we go to Vancouver to take on the British Columbia Bears and we know that we'll probably need to raise our game again to complete a hat trick of wins."
Ontario Blues vs England Counties teams
Ontario Blues: Rory Tomlinson (Brantford Harlequins); Ryan Macsween (Balmy Beach), Ryan Tomlinson (Barrie), Derek Daypuck (London St Georges), Scott Kyle (Niagara Wasps); Steve Piatek, (Brantford Harlequins), Adam Schouten (Brantford Harlequins); Creag Johnston (Toronto Scottish), Mike Pletch (Velox Valhallians), Dan Pletch (Oakville Crusaders), Brett Beukeboom (Lindsay Gryphons OR Gord Kehoe (Barrie), Stu Ault (Barrhaven Scottish), Keegan Selby (Brantford Harlequins), Alistair Clark (Oakville Crusaders), Mark Macsween (Balmy Beach).
England Counties XV: Tom Jarvis (unattached & Gloucestershire); James Tincknell (Wharfedale & Yorkshire), Kyle Dench (Harrogate & Yorkshire) capt, Henry Staff (Blackheath & Hertfordshire), Charlie Ingall (Tynedale & Northumberland); Paul Humphries (Blackheath & Kent), Tom Kessell (Plymouth Albion & Devon); Gavin Woods (Caldy & Cheshire), Jonny Roddam (Fylde & Lancashire), Nick Flynn (Sedgley Park & Lancashire), Louis McGowan (Coventry & Lancashire), Luke Collins (Redruth & Cornwall), Mark Wilson (Blaydon & Northumberland), Daniel Baines (Macclesfield & Lancashire), Phil Eggleshaw (Nottingham & Durham).
Replacements: all used - Matt Hall (Blaydon & Northumberland), Craig Voisey (Rotherham & North Midlands), Harry Spencer (Saracens/Bedford & Devon), Mark Evans (Moseley & North Midlands), Ross Winney (Macclesfield & Cheshire), Steve Hamilton (Blackheath & Kent), Fergus Mulchrone (Macclesfield & Cheshire).
Referee: Mr Andrew Hosie (Canada/Ontario)