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Counties include 13 newcomers at Preston

15 March 2012

  • Wholesale changes for Ireland clash
  • Manager Mike Old in positive mood
England Counties manager Mike Old

Photo: RFU Archive

Both England Counties and the Ulster Bank International Team go into their game at Preston Grasshoppers tomorrow night (Friday, March 16, 7.30pm) with a number of fresh faces from their meeting in Dublin last year.

In keeping with tradition, the Counties have 13 players on debut in a team drawn from 12 clubs. Only four of tomorrow’s squad started a year.

“I’ve been really impressed with the guys,” said Manager Mike Old. “They've mixed well, come together very well and our units within the team are good. It does help that we have some club combinations involved and also players with previous Counties experience.

“I’m happy with the little bit more experience we have in the squad, be it with the Counties or through more mature club players.

“Rob [Baldwin] will lead the team extremely well and get advice and support from senior players like Matt Hall.

“I’m also very excited about the back-line, which has trained phenomenally well. There’s an awful lot of pace and a lot of talent, so they key for us is to win some ball and use the size of the Hoppers’ pitch.

“There’s always a keen sense of anticipation when a new side comes together, coupled with that tinge of uncertainty about whether we can replicate our work on the training pitch in the match.

“We’re departing from the norm this time by having a light run-out against Preston Grasshoppers tonight just to step up a level from working against each other. Dave Baldwin, the Hoppers Director of Rugby, has been with the Counties for a long time before standing down at the end of last season and he knows exactly what we are looking for. I’m sure the session will be very helpful.”

The Irish team contains 10 changes to the starting line-up which won the fixture at Old Belvedere 16-8 and two enforced changes to the team which defeated the Scotland Club side 26-21 last week in the Ulster Bank Club International to retain the Dalriada Cup.

Ireland are looking for their first win on English soil, although they hold a 2-1 advantage in the series, with one game drawn.

England Counties (v Ulster Bank International Team at Preston Grasshoppers, Friday, March 16, kick-off 7.30pm): Peter Hodgkinson (Ealing Trailfinders)*; Phil Chesters (Ealing Trailfinders), Andrew Henderson (Barking), Tom Wheatcroft (Ealing Trailfinders)*, Owen Bruynseels (Ealing Trailfinders); Ross Laidlaw (Rosslyn Park), Harry Peck (Tynedale)*; Robbie Kalbraier (Blaydon), Matt Hall (Blaydon)*, Tom Mantell (Macclesfield), Louis McGowan (Sedgley Park)*, Robbie Hurrell (Stourbridge), Lee Starling (Ealing Trailfinders), Dave Allen (Blackheath)*, Rob Baldwin (Wharfedale)* capt. Replacements: David Dickinson (Tynedale), Sam Wilkes (Cinderford), Sam Shires (Tynedale), Chris Wearmouth (Blaydon), Philip Woodhead (Wharfedale), Chris Briers (Fylde)*, Mike Waywell* (Fylde).

*denotes previous Counties appearance

Ulster Bank Club International Team & Replacements: Rodger McBurney (Ballymena); Cian Aherne (Lansdowne), Killian Lett (Clontarf), Mike Kelliher (Young Munster), Cathal Quinn (Cork Constitution); Craig Ronaldson (Lansdowne), Gerry Hurley (Cork Constitution) capt; Rob Sweeney (St. Mary's College), Ger Slattery (Young Munster), Christy Condon (Dolphin), Philip Donnellan (Cork Constitution), Fergal Walsh (Shannon), Liam Og Murphy (Young Munster), Barry O'Mahony (Clontarf), Frank Cogan (Clontarf). Replacements: Hugh McGrath (Young Munster), Risteard Byrne (UCD), Damian Hall (St. Mary’s College), Neville Melbourne (Young Munster), Brian Slater (UCC), Barry Keeshan (Dolphin), James Thompson (Ballynahinch).