- Cornish duo maintain Counties tradition on Spanish tour
- Aaron Penberthy and Ben Hilton share great experience
Since the inaugural England Counties XV tour in 2002, when Ricky Pellow and Wayne Reed were part of the pioneering squad to visit Chile, the deep South West has always been a staunch supporter of the representative flagship of Community and County game outside the Premiership.
The current tour party, which is in Spain preparing for the opening game of a three-match visit against a Madrid Select XV, has two representatives from the South West – Aaron Penberthy and Ben Hilton – both Cornwall players from Redruth and the Cornish All Blacks respectively.
At that point similarities end. Penberthy, at 18, is the youngest player in the squad. Hilton, 29, is from the more senior end of the spectrum. Penberthy is a fly half and one of two players – Ben Sparks, who started his career with Cleve RFC and Somerset is the other – who played recently in the inaugural England Counties Under 20 team that met Scotland Under 20 in Leeds in March.
Hilton is a 6ft 5in, 17st 10lbs lock forward who has an England pedigree via his involvement with England Under 18, 19 and Students.
But despite the disparity in their ages, sizes and positions, they share a common bond so far as the England Counties are concerned. They are both experiencing this level of the game for the first time and they are both finding it a very rewarding experience.
Counties professionalism impresses newcomers
"I’m loving it," says Hilton. "It’s really enjoyable and very professional. I didn’t really know what to expect, but now I’m here I feel very lucky and excited to be involved. It’s the end of a hectic season, but getting up for it wasn’t a problem. I’d play all year round if I could and this might make my pre-season a bit easier.
"It the attention to detail that you notice. All the small things are taken care of, you don’t have to worry about anything. You get a shower and an ice bath after training and there’s a towel waiting for you.
"Medically the doc, Andy Smith, is top class. He checks your fluids, weighs you before and after training. He and physiotherapist Rachel Galley make a great team and you feel that when the time comes to play, we’ll all be in the best shape we can be in.
"Obviously the first test is to get to know each other, but we are all aware of the importance of creating that bond and that understanding and everyone has gone out of their way to make it happen. Now after three days we’re going forward as a team. It’s tremendous.”
Having recently come from the Under 20 experience, Penberthy’s standards were high when he arrived, but the professionalism of the senior Counties operation has clearly impressed him.
"I didn’t know what to expect to be honest, but it’s been very good," he says. "With the weather being pretty warm and training being intense, it’s quite hard physically and after the County Championship I was ready for a bit of a rest, but being picked for your country gives you a real buzz and you look forward to playing again.
"So far as the tour is concerned, it’s definitely the sheer professionalism of the Counties that shocked me a bit.
"What the trip is also providing for me as the youngest player is the opportunity to learn from other more experienced players and I’m trying hard to take on board as many of those tips as I can.
"Being the youngest doesn’t create any serious issues. I keep being reminded of the old adage that ‘if you’re good enough, you’re old enough’ and the management and players have all been very good in building my confidence.
"It’s just a very exciting and enjoyable rugby experience and I’m sure I’ll go back a better player for being part of this Counties side."