- South East core can boost Counties
- Injuries force changes for Dublin game
Photo: RFU Archive
With a dozen of their players drawn from only three clubs, England Counties hope to find the challenge of bonding less of a challenge than normal when they travel to Dublin to face the Ulster Bank Club International Team at Old Belvedere RFC on Friday (March 18).
The Counties squad of 22 players will have three days to get to know each other and gel as a unit, sometimes a tall order when players who do not know each other are brought together.
Prop Aaron Liffchak is one of strong Barking contingent in the line-up and he is confident that having club team-mates involved can be a real bonus when the squad arrives in Ireland and gets down to putting some collective organisation in place.
"There are six of us from Barking, including our club captain James Kellard and four other forwards, so that gives the team a nucleus of players who know each other," said Liffchak, director of rugby at Trinity School in Croydon.
"Add three players from Cambridge and three from London Scottish, who all play in National One, and you have a solid group of players who have valuable familiarity in a squad where 15 players will be playing at this level for the first time.
"Welding a team together in a few days is always a challenge for the coaches and the players and hopefully seeing a few familiar faces will be useful."
Liffchak targets victory
Having played for England at U16, U18, U21, Students and Universities level, the 25-year-old is well aware of the challenge facing every new representative squad is it comes together for the first time and it is a challenge he is relishing.
"I was in the frame for the Counties last year, but having just taken up my rugby duties at Trinity, I couldn't make myself available," added the former Saracens and London Welsh front-row man, a professional player from the age of 18 until joining the staff at Trinity.
"My head, Mark Bishop, was really supportive and gave me time off to make the trip. Barking also backed us and once that had approval had been offered, it was absolutely great to be able to accept.
"It's also a great honour for the club to have so many players involved, especially when we only came up into National One this season and no-one was expecting us to set the league alight.
"Now my targets are to make a positive impact on the squad and, of course, to win the game."
The sixth Barking player to be called up for the Counties was David Vincent, who came into the squad when London Scottish wingman David Howells had to withdraw after picking up a shoulder injury in a club game on Saturday.
A third change to the original selection brings London Scottish lock Josh Brown into the squad as replacement for Robbie Hurrell (Cambridge), who damaged his knee playing against London Scottish on Saturday.
England Counties squad
Dave Allen* (Blackheath), Sam Beaumont (Fylde), Josh Brown (London Scottish), Alex Clarke (London Scottish), Matt Hall* (Blaydon), James Kellard* (Barking), Aaron Liffchak (Barking), Dan Lloyd-Jones (Barking), Alex MacKenzie (Barking), James Ngan (Barking), Steve Pape* (Rosslyn Park), Tom Standfield (London Scottish)
Gareth Collins* (Leicester Lions), Peter Hodgkinson (EalingTrailfinders), Tom Jarvis* (Stourbridge), Stefan Liebenberg (Old Albanians), Dan Mugford (Cambridge), Ben Spencer (Cambridge), James Stephenson (Blackheath), David Vincent (Barking), Mike Waywell (Fylde), Tom Wheatcroft (Cambridge)
*denotes previous England Counties cap