Counties should relish being out of comfort zone says Baldwin
New ideas, new faces part of fresh challenge
Photo: RFU Archive
England Counties captain Rob Baldwin has challenged his team to embrace stepping out of the comfort zone provided by their club environment as they prepare to face the Ulster Bank International Team at Preston Grasshoppers RFC on Friday.
The Wharfedale No 8, who leads the side for the second time after being at the helm in Spain last year, believes that being receptive to new ideas, building new friendships and buying into the challenge of welding a team together in a comparatively short time is not only the key to success, but also one of the special ingredients that being involved in the Counties team offers.
On his last outing as captain, the Counties beat an inexperienced Castilla Leon XV 104-10 in Salamanca, Spain, but on Friday Baldwin and his team, drawn from 12 different clubs, are tackling a seasoned Irish team that has already beaten their Scotland counterparts in Dublin and is looking to win on English soil for the first time.
Tackling opponents of proven quality on the international stage and facing the added hurdle of welding a team of comparative strangers together in a few hours on the training pitch are challenges Baldwin relishes and part of what he feels makes the England Counties experience so special.
“Whatever ideas you have from your own club about how the game should be played, you have to come to the Counties with a blank sheet and be prepared to hear what other people have to say,” he said. “You’ve got to look at how the coaches want to play, get that into your mind and have a go at that. We’re all good enough players operating at a decent standard to find other ways of getting the job done if we need to change things, but I’m comfortable that we can pull the different ideas together.
“That’s the stimulating part of being with the Counties – it’s good to step out of the norm and test yourself and test other players’ ideas on how to do things. Everybody comes from their own comfort zone, from what they’ve been doing at their own clubs for seven or eight months. It’s nice to have a break, try a few other ideas.”
Baldwin acknowledges that the Ulster Bank International Team will present a very different experience and a much tougher test.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he explained. “There seems to be a lot more experience in this group of players. A few older heads. There’s a lot of bulk in the side that we’ll definitely need to get into these Irish lads, who are very direct and confrontational.
“I don’t think leading the team will be that hard a job with the players that are on board. There are a lot of guys with captaincy experience themselves and in terms of everyone being on the same hymn sheet, that showed straight away in the first session.
“The key to success is for everyone to come with an open mind, get to know each other as quickly as possible and just muck in.
“Being invited to be captain is a massive honour and if I never have the chance to do it again, I can say that I had the privilege. Let’s hope I can do it in a winning side.”
Ealing Trailfinders wingman Owen Brynseels is the latest newcomer to the squad. He takes over from Rosslyn Park’s Dominic Shabbo, who has knee trouble, and takes the Ealing contingent to five.
England Counties squad to face Ulster Bank International Team
Forwards: Dave Allen* (Blackheath), Rob Baldwin* (Wharfedale), David Dickinson (Tynedale), Matthew Hall* (Blaydon), Tom Mantell (Macclesfield), Lewis 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), Owen Bruynseels (Ealing Trailfinders), Mike Waywell* (Fylde), Tom Wheatcroft* (Ealing Trailfinders).
*denotes previous Counties appearance