- Counties accustomed to injury exodus
- "We may have changes of personnel, but the calibre of the squad has not changed" - Mike Old
England Counties are accustomed to re-shuffling the team for their Spring International match because of injuries, but this year the toll has been much heavier than normal ahead of the match against the Ulster Bank International Team at Preston Grasshoppers RFC on Friday night (March 16, 7.30 kick-off).
When the squad meets at Preston tomorrow (Tuesday, March 13), it will show five changes to the original selection, with the most recent addition, Fylde’s Chris Briers, replacing Blackheath’s James Stephenson, who was himself a replacement for Fergus Mulchrone (Macclesfield).
Briers made his debut for the Counties XV in their inaugural win on French soil against France Amateurs in 2006.
The withdrawal of Laurence Ovens brings Blaydon’s Robbie Kalbraier into the squad and Sam Wilkes from Cinderford takes over from Dan Richmond (Rosslyn Park) in the most recent adjustments following the initial loss of the Mulchrone brothers Fergus and Charlie and Fylde’s Gareth Rawlings with injury.
The changes result in the squad of 22 now being drawn from 12 clubs, with 13 players making their first appearances for the Counties.
“It is always disappointing for players when they have to pull out of any team because of injury and missing the chance to wear an England shirt is especially sad,” said Counties Manager Mike Old.
“However, we have an exciting summer tour to East Africa coming up in June and the form of all the contenders for that trip will be monitored both with their clubs and during the County Championship, so they still have plenty to play for once they are back in action.
“As I have said before, the selection process was extremely competitive this year and I know that the players coming in will maintain the standard set by previous Counties teams. We may have changes of personnel, but the calibre of the squad has not changed and I’m looking forward to seeing them in action.
“Blending a group of players, who in many cases will not know each other’s names when they meet on Tuesday, is a real test for the players and for coaches Jan Bonney and Steve Pope, but that is part of the Counties tradition and what makes being involved so exciting and challenging.”
Standard ticket prices are £10 for adults/£5 concessions (OAPS/Students), whilst under 16’s will be admitted free if accompanied by an adult. Adult tickets can be purchased in advance, whilst both Adult & Concession tickets can be bought at the gate on the day of the game.
England Counties squad:
Forwards: Dave Allen* (Blackheath), Rob Baldwin* (Wharfedale), David Dickinson (Tynedale), Matthew Hall* (Blaydon), Tom Mantell (Macclesfield), Louis McGowan* (Sedgley Park), Robbie Kalbraier (Blaydon), Robbie Hurrell (Stourbridge), Sam Wilkes (Cinderford), 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), Philip Woodhead (Wharfedale), Chris Briers (Fylde)*, Harry Peck* (Tynedale), Dom Shabbo (Rosslyn Park), Mike Waywell* (Fylde), Tom Wheatcroft* (Ealing Trailfinders).
*denotes previous Counties appearance