- England Counties to take on Ulster Bank Club International Team tonight
- Ben Spencer will be the youngest player in the Counties side
Photo: RFU Archive
While former England Counties players and officials will be watching ex-Counties scrum half Ben Foden on the big stage in Dublin this weekend, just up the road at Old Belvedere RFC on Friday evening another youngster from Cheshire will be following in his footsteps.
Like Foden, who played for England Counties in Canada in 2004 as an 18-year-old student at Manchester University, Ben Spencer, now of Cambridge RUFC, will be the youngest player in the Counties side facing the Ulster Bank Club International Team.
And like the England full back, Spencer also made his way into the senior county team via his county affiliations with Cheshire’s age-group teams.
“I remember being very nervous at the time. I was in the company of some very experienced guys who had played a lot of rugby and who were in some cases a bit intimidating," said Foden.
“But it was a great experience and there’s nothing like pulling on an England jersey for the first time. It’s also a great boost for a young player and shows that people are recognising the talent he’s got.
“I wish him and the Counties team all the best for Friday night.”
What Foden will not appreciate is the rate of progress that has been made by the North West youngster, who is now one of three Cambridge players in the Counties line-up alongside fly half Dan Mugford and centre Tom Wheatcroft.
Just three years ago he would travel with his close friend Sam Davies on the Manchester RFC coach as a water carrier for the first team.
In charge of the side at that time was one Dave Baldwin, currently the forwards’ coach with England Counties.
It’s a good challenge to have at this age - Spencer
“Sam is playing with Manchester first team at the moment and I remember him well enough, but he would bring his pals to do the water job with him and I don’t remember all of them,” said Baldwin.
“Discovering that Ben was one of those youngsters was a bit of a surprise.”
Former England RU and Great Britain RL international Keith Fielding played a major part in that transition from water-boy to England player.
“I played for the junior sides at Manchester and received a lot of good advice from my uncle Steve Swindells, who played there, and my dad, who was always around to help me.
“But Keith Fielding coached me from Year 7 to Year 11 and I really had a lot of respect for him as a coach and mentor. He played a massive part in getting me from school level to county rugby.”
A family relocation then took him to the South West, where his tuition continued at Ivybridge Community College, Devon and Exeter Chiefs, the most recent move coming when Cambridge coach Bob Crooks watched Spencer and Mugford and offered them a chance to play at a National League club.
“Getting game time was a massive thing that swayed me towards Cambridge and I’ve tried to take the opportunity with both hands.” he said.
“I haven’t given up on my education and I’ll be starting a degree course in community sports coaching at Bedford University in September which will allow me to continue playing at Cambridge.”
For now, however, the focus is on Friday’s game at Old Belvedere and facing the challenge of being the youngest player in the squad and dealing with a step up in quality with the Counties.
“It’s a good challenge to have at this age and I’m really excited about being here. I’m with a good bunch of guys and I’m enjoying the experience.” he added.