- Counties set for Irish challenge on March 16
- "This should be a fantastic game" - Counties manager Michael Old
Photo: RFU Archive
England Counties have selected a balanced squad for their game against their Irish counterparts, the Ulster Bank International Team, at Preston Grasshoppers RFC on March 16 (7.30ko) by including 10 players with previous experience and 12 who will be making their debuts.
The representative flagship of the county and community game, the Counties XV has a long tradition of blooding newcomers and the line-up to face their Irish counterparts will contain only five of the players who played against them in Dublin a year ago.
This is due in no small part to the progress made by Counties players, with 11 of that squad now ruled out because they are playing in either the Premiership or the Championship.
One of those is Saracens scrum-half Ben Spencer, who played in Dublin 12 months ago as an 18-year-old and has since gone on to play for England Under 20s and England Saxons during a swift rise through the ranks.
“This is probably a more experienced squad than we have had for a number of years for the game against the Irish, but we also have some excellent emerging young players involved.” said manager Michael Old.
“Selection is made from English qualified players whose primary contract is with a National League club, i.e no dual registration players, and we’ve had a tough job narrowing the squad down this year.
“There is good strength across the National Leagues and lots of players have been under consideration after clubs have recommended their own and opposition players and the selectors have undertaken a wide coverage.
“Selectors have seen all National League clubs and I’d like to thank all the clubs for their support. It’s disappointing that no National Two players are included as there is undoubted talent across the leagues, but I think this reflects the ability at National One level this season and the strong competition in the league week in week out.
“No Jersey players were considered at the request of the club. However we feel that this squad gives us the balance that we need to take on the Irish after the narrow loss in Dublin last year.
“With the game taking place in the North of England for the first time, I am pleased that 12 players from northern clubs have forced their way into the squad. I hope this increases the level of home support for the whole team at Preston for what I am sure will be a fantastic game and hopefully a home victory."
England Counties squad
Forwards: Dave Allen* (Blackheath), Rob Baldwin* (Wharfedale), David Dickinson (Tynedale), Matthew Hall* (Blaydon), Tom Mantell (Macclesfield), Lewis McGowan* (Sedgley Park), Laurence Ovens (Rosslyn Park), Gareth Rawlings (Fylde), Dan Richmond (Rosslyn Park), Sam Shires (Tynedale), Lee Starling (Ealing Trailfinders), Chris Wearmouth (Blaydon).
Backs: Phil Chesters (Ealing Trailfinders), Andrew Henderson (Barking), Peter Hodgkinson* (Ealing Trailfinders), Ross Laidlaw (Rosslyn Park), Charlie Mulchrone* (Macclesfield), Fergus Mulchrone* (Macclesfield), Harry Peck* (Tynedale), Dom Shabbo (Rosslyn Park), Mike Waywell* (Fylde), Tom Wheatcroft* (Ealing Trailfinders).
*Players with previous England Counties experience.
Preston Grasshoppers are offering a discount scheme for the game by which clubs can obtain a 25% reduction on the cost of £10 adult tickets. For further details or to request match tickets then please contact our administration office on 01772 863546 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.