- Counties round of tour with convincing victory over British Columbia Bears
- Fitting farewell for Manager Danny Hodgson as the side return home
Tony Simpson gives us his sixth, and final, entry into his Counties tour diary, exclusive to RFU.com. As the squad touch back down in England after a highly successful trip to Canada, we bid a fond farewell to Manager Danny Hogson and find out how the young players in the squad have matured over the past few weeks.
Photo: RFU Archive
Counties Manager Danny Hodgson could not have scripted the final chapter of his England Counties story better had he written it himself.
The final leg of a journey that started out in Chile in 2002, 36 games ago, was concluded with the 26th win, a seven-try, 46-7 victory over British Columbia Bears on a hot afternoon at Klahanie Stadium in West Vancouver, the home of Capilano RFC.
It was an appropriate venue for the 67-year-old, who cut his teeth as a tour manager in British Columbia when he led a Northumberland County team to this part of the world back in the 1980s.
For most of his Counties career, Danny has been the Assistant Manager, the work-horse role which basically entails making sure that everyone and everything is where it should be at any given time, whether the demand is for transport, a training pitch, a scrummaging machine, training bibs, balls, longer studs, tie-ups for socks, ties for 'dressed-up do's' (when originals have disappeared), towels for training, soap, ice (for baths, not gin and tonics!), milk shakes, power bars, curly-wurlies etc etc etc.
This list is endless and it is Danny who has formulated the blueprint that no Assistant Manager can be without.
Latterly, since taking over from his long-time sparring partner Jim Robinson as Manager, the bulk of the burden has moved to different shoulders, but Danny has been omnipresent to help ensure that the wheels are oiled and running smoothly.
Which is not to suggest that Danny Hodgson is a list-making nerd. Not a bit of it. His Northumbrian charm and wit is never far below the surface and his cheerful chuckle pervades each and every group when something tickles his dry sense of humour.
In signing off for the last time in Vancouver, he reminded his audience that he has taken over from Richard Appleby as an RFU Representative for Northumberland and as such will be able to keep a close eye on Counties developments in the corridors of power.
Danny did well to hold himself together
Bias may well be an issue, but hands-on knowledge will certainly be available in spades. In the circumstances, it was almost inevitable that a very tired and emotional end-of-tour Court Session would unfold at the highly hospitable Capilano RFC.
Central theme, of course, was the final appearance at this ritual by the Team Manager. He did well to hold himself together as the tributes, hugs and handshakes came thick and fast from a group of players who did a good job in conveying the collective gratitude of a much wider collection of people who have benefited from Danny's kindly, caring disposition down the years.
The session also revealed the extent to which the group had bonded together so tightly in 14 days. There was an emotional response to the Manager's rendition of the national anthem – in these proceedings celebrity and good works offer no protection against ritual humiliation – but that display of warmth and affection also provoked a spontaneous display of feeling between young players who were not afraid or embarrassed to wear their hearts on their sleeves for a few moments.
Cheesy as hell to mention it, I know, but when people in high places are next looking at the balance sheet and the budget, the human face of touring, as perfectly exemplified by this trip, ought to inform the process.
With an average age of 22, the group contained more youngsters than any previous trip and some of them matured visibly in the short time they were on the trip.
No-one emerging more positively than Devon scrum half Tom Kessell, who not only revealed outstanding ability in the No. 9 shirt, but also a personality which grew almost by the hour and transformed him from a 20-year-old who wouldn’t say 'boo' to a goose into the most evil Officer of the Court imaginable. "Only doing my job, mate..." – now when did we last hear that defence before in the Courtroom!
So now we’re back in Blightly, all safe and sound; well fed by our friends at Air Canada and ready to rejoin the real world. And, of course, hoping that there will be a next time!
PS. If you've enjoyed the blog, thanks for reading it. We're a bit off the pace statistically, but we’ve had a bit of fun looking out for items. The 'what stays on tour' items would have you in stitches, like the one about the round of drinks... don't ask. If I told you I’d have to kill you!