- Spain Test win is highlight of three-match tour for England Counties
- Instant bonding plays a big part in success of the trip to Spain
Photo: Getty Images
England Counties completed their fifth successive unbeaten summer tour when they proved too strong for the Spanish national side in Valladolid and in doing so produced the perfect ending to another trip that ticked all the boxes.
The Test win was the pinnacle of the trip for the Counties and the calibre of their 55-6 win underlined the growing quality of Counties XV rugby season on season. Given that the side had an average age of just 22 years and 60 days, beating a side ranked 23 in IRB ratings was a source of great pride for the squad.
Victory in the final game followed comfortable wins in the two ‘warm-up’ games against representative teams from Madrid and Castilla Leon. The opening eight-try 53-10 win over Madrid had a reasonably competitive edge, whereas the second match in Salamanca, which the Counties won 104-10, was never a serious contest once the visitors had weathered an early spell of pressure and started to find some real fluency.
"I’m extremely pleased with the way the trip has gone," said Manager Michael Old. "We had three good successes and built on every game, which is the purpose of the trip. We had a good group of lads who came together extremely quickly and stayed together for the whole tour.
"They made our lives extremely easy and were a credit to English rugby and England Counties throughout the trip, thanks in no small part to the great job Gareth Collins did as our tour captain."
Captain Collins said: "The rugby took a little while to get going, but overall I think it has been very successful. It was very enjoyable, the team came together very well and we had a very good end to the tour with the Test match win.
"Undoubtedly I’ll go back a better player from playing and training with the people around me and competing against international players."
The handsome Test match win was the pinnacle for Backs Coach Jan Bonney, who said: "I’m delighted with how we finished the tour, certainly in the quality of the second-half performance and the excellent tries we scored. Overall the trip has been fantastic – we’ve been to some amazing places and we’ve enjoyed some wonderful hospitality.
"The only disappointment has been the fact that we’ve won by such wide margins, but the project is intended to be a development tool for the Spanish teams. The boys have worked really hard. They’re a really good bunch. They worked very hard on the field and had a really good time together off it. The proof of the calibre of the squad is the results they’ve achieved."
We put a side ranked 23 to the sword – Hall
Photo: Getty Images
Senior Counties international Matt Hall said: "With all respect to Spain, I wish the rugby had been slightly better. The first match against Madrid was the hardest because we were just getting to know each other, but we managed eight tries, so that was pretty good.
"The highlight was definitely the final game when we put a side ranked 23rd in the world to the sword. That result was a testament to the hard work we’ve been doing. Overall a brilliant tour that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed."
Coach Dave Baldwin applauds the ability of this squad to achieve a working understanding in such a short space of time. He said: "When they came together at the end of the championship they hardly knew each other’s names, but in my time with the Counties this squad has been one of the best in terms of gelling together.
"I thought the tour went really well. We started with a good win against Madrid and though we had a runaway win in the second match, we showed some clinical play which is necessary to get to a three-figure score. The final game saw us beat a Spain team ranked 23rd in the world by 50 points, which I think is a fantastic performance."
"Two games, one training session – I can’t complain. It’s been great fun. I’ll hopefully have my name down for the Counties again in the future,” said Jimmy Williams, who flew out to replace injured scrum half Harry Peck.
Ben Sparks, one of the two Counties Under 20 players involved, said: "I’ve really enjoyed myself. It lived up to my expectations completely and was a step up from the Under 20. I’ve learned a great deal from the coaches and from being involved with experienced, quality players who have given me space to do what I think and get involved."
England Counties 2011 tour results
Madrid 24 (tries – Durand, Guidim S Fernandez; con – Fernandez 3; pen – Fernandez) England Counties 53 (tries – Hughes, Collins, Voisey, Hamilton, Wilson, Brennand, Peck, Sparks; con – Thomas 5; pen – Thomas).
Castilla Leon 10 (try – Nunez; con & pen – Griffiths) England Counties 104 (tries – Fergus Mulchrone 4; Ollie Brennand 3; Hodgkinson, Mitchell, Wilson, Preece (2), Woods, Sparks, Hall, Hamilton: Con – Penberthy 12).
Spain 6 (pen – Fernandez 2) England Counties 55 (Tries – Hamilton, Charlie Mulchrone 2, Thomas, Collins, Baldwin, Hilton; Cons – Thomas 7; Pen – Thomas 2).