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Ealing core can help Counties bonding process

14 March 2012

  • Trailfinders can help weld a cohesive Counties side
  • Team-building is crucial challenge says Hodgkinson
Peter Hodgkinson in action for England Counties

Photo: Getty Images

Ealing Trailfinders centre Peter Hodgkinson believes his team mates can deliver an invaluable bonus to the England Counties as they prepare for Friday night’s game against the Ulster Bank International Team at Preston Grasshoppers RFC.

The London club increased its contingent of players in the squad to five when wing Owen Bruynseels was called up replacement for injured Dominic Shabbo from Rosslyn Park and as a senior member of the Ealing players Hodgkinson, feels that having a core of players from one club can only help in the challenging process of creating a cohesive side in a few training sessions.

“This is my third time with the Counties and it’s still a great thrill,” the teacher from Halliford School, Shepperton said. “You meet new players all the time and bond with them.

“Coming into this environment is good after a long club season when you do become mentally fatigued. It makes you sharp and you have to work hard and buy into it. Bonding together and getting to know each other is the key and I think this group has done that very quickly.

“The biggest challenge is definitely about building an understanding within the squad and it’s a credit to the manager that he brings together people who do buy into the process and who get on well.”

That said, Hodgkinson is confident that the Ealing players can deliver a bonus.

“It’s bound to help if five players are from one club and four of them are backs,” he said. “There are more intricate details on the pitch and small communication issues that you develop by playing together week-on-week and that should definitely help.

“When I was chosen for the Counties last year for the first time I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the professionalism of the setup was first class and certainly boosted my self-confidence. You arrive not really knowing whether you belong in a group where no-one knows who you are, but you soon fit in and that doubt and worry that players have, especially if they are on their own, is soon blown out of the water.”

Having a team-mate who knows the score has been a big help for the Ealing players.

“It’s good to be ‘an old head’ and know what it’s about,” says Hodgkinson. “We travelled up together and I could help relieve their anxieties and give them some expectations before we arrived.”

And while the challenge of forging a working unit is the first test, the examination provided by the Irish team is bound to be equally demanding.

“Ireland are a big, strong unit, very physical and keen to disrupt our breakdown and fight for the ball at every turn,” Hodgkinson added. “Their line speed will be faster, so everything will have to be done more quickly than we usually do it.

“It’s going to be a big, physical encounter, so we’ve got to expect it and be ready for it from the off and not be asleep to start with. We have some serious timber up front that will definitely help and we’ve also got some speed in the backs, so if we can create some quick ball it should be good.

“These are the situations you want to be in as a player and you know how fine the line is between disappointment and jubilation. Moving up a level with Ealing challenged us and showed us how small the margins between winning and losing can be. We lost in Ireland last year when we could and should have won. That was disappointing, so it would be good to turn it round.”

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