- England Counties believe this is their year to win on Irish soil
- 'There is no greater motivation than to play for your country' – Hall
Photo: RFU Archive
England Counties have never won on Irish soil but stalwarts Peter Hodgkinson and Matt Hall believe this could be their year.
The squad landed in Cork last night and face Ireland Club XV at Cork Constitution FC tomorrow (19:30).
Hodgkinson and Hall have 19 England Counties caps between them and know better than anyone the tough challenge the Irish pose.
Ealing Trailfinders full back Hodgkinson said: “There is a danger when playing quality teams like Ireland to get too concerned about what they are going to bring the table. We need keep the focus on ourselves and our game plan.
“They are physical and direct and will want to win at all costs. If we match that and play to our potential then it’s going to be a good game and there’s no reason we can’t get that win on Irish soil.”
During their last visit to Ireland in 2011, the Counties failed to take chances and were punished 16-8 at the Old Belvedere RFC ground in Dublin.
The Counties came back stronger the following year with a 34-16 win against the same opponents at Preston Grasshoppers. Hodgkinson was influential in the three tries which came from the back line, making breaks and setting up opportunities out wide.
'You can feel the excitement and anticipation' – Hall
“I remember being very confident heading into the game last year and it was an all-round good performance. The team was very close, it bonded well and we wanted to win for each other.”
The current squad has a good mix of experience with eight players previously capped for England Counties.
“Each player can take confidence from knowing that they have been picked for a reason and they just need to do what they do week in week out for their clubs,’ added Hodgkinson. ‘They shouldn’t come here and try to change the way that they play, they need to continue expressing themselves and most importantly enjoy it – if we enjoy it we’ll do well.”
Seasoned Counties hooker Matt Hall has beaten the Irish twice at home but is still after the elusive away victory and echoed Hodgkinson's comments.
“Every time you get to pull on the England shirt is very special,” said Hall. “There is no greater motivation than the opportunity to be selected to play for your country and have the chance to test yourself against the best.
‘You can feel the excitement and anticipation around the camp already. This is a really good squad, I can’t wait for tomorrow evening – I really think this could be our year.”
England Counties squad to play Ireland Club XV:
Forwards: Dave Allen*^ (Blackheath); Joe Burton (Loughborough Students); David Dickinson *^(Tynedale); Tom Fidler (Cambridge); Mark George (Stourbridge); Matt Hall*^ (Blaydon); James Inglis (Esher); Billy Johnson* (Old Albanian); Robbie Kalbraier*^ (Blaydon); Sam Shires*^ (Ealing); Will Warden (Richmond); Ben West (Cinderford)
Backs: Jack Adams (Cinderford); Lewis Barker (Coventry); Scott Barrow (Fylde); Nev Edwards (Rosslyn Park); Chris Elder (Esher); Matt Heeks (Rosslyn Park); Peter Hodgkinson*^ (Ealing); Will Hurrell (Stourbridge); Ollie Marchon (Old Albanian); Rory Teague* (Blackheath)
*Previous ECXV Cap (8 players)
^played v Ireland at Preston 2012 (6 players)
England Counties spring international fixtures:
England Counties v Ireland Club XV (Friday, February 8) Cork Constitution RFC (19:30)
England Counties v France Amateurs (Friday, February 22) Ealing Trailfinders Rugby Club (19:00)
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