- Fylde fly half Johnson to captain England Counties XV again
- One of three Fylde players represented in squad
Photo: Chris Farrow
Old friendships will be renewed and new ones will be formed when the England Counties XV squad assembles in Darlington this week to prepare for the international against Ireland Club XV at the Durham town’s Northern Echo Arena on Friday, February 21 (7.30pm).
The match will give players from clubs in National League One and National Leagues Two North and South the chance to play for their country in the representative flagship of community rugby in England but also to get to know better players who are usually opponents.
“The best thing for me about playing for England Counties is the friends that you make,” said Fylde fly half Chris Johnson, who will again have the honour of captaining England Counties this week.
“You come up against most of the players in the squad during the league season but playing with the Counties XV means that you work together and from that some strong friendships are formed.”
Johnson had his first taste of captaining England Counties on their tour to Belgium last summer and he stepped into the breach against France Federale XV last month when Wharfedale number eight Rob Baldwin was suspended for one week after he accumulated three yellow cards for foul play during the season.
Baldwin has served his suspension and is available to play at Darlington Mowden Park’s 25,000 capacity stadium but Johnson has retained the captaincy for the Ireland match.
“It was a bit of a surprise when I got the captaincy because Rob was the original captain and they asked me at the last minute when he was suspended,” Johnson said.
“I captained the side in the first match of the Belgium tour last year, which was a great experience and leading the team for the first time in an international in France was a great honour.
“Leading the side out at Darlington will be a proud moment for me. I will have a few friends and a few family members to support me.
“We’ve made a few changes to the squad from the defeat in France but, from my previous experience of playing Ireland when we drew against them at Donnybrook in 2009, I’m looking forward to going up against them again.”
Johnson, 27, is in his second season with Fylde having started his career with Rochdale, his hometown club. But it was during a successful stint with Huddersfield, now in National Three North, that Johnson was first capped by England Counties.
These are heady days for Huddersfield, who also set Luther Burrell on his way to stardom although Johnson’s career did not quite overlap with England’s new centre.
“The coaches at Huddersfield did a lot for me and I still have some very good friends there,” Johnson said.
“But I decided to try my hand at National One level after I played county rugby for Lancashire with Mark Nelson as coach and he persuaded me to give it a go.
“Fylde is such a great club with a proud history and to have Brian Ashton involved there was another factor. Turning up to my first training session and being coached by a former England coach was a memorable experience.”
Johnson is one of three Fylde players in the England Counties squad for Friday’s match alongside centre Chris Briers, who also played in the 16-15 defeat in France, and prop Adam Lewis, who will have his chance to make new and lasting friends in his first involvement in the squad.
Tickets for England Counties XV v Ireland Club XV at the Northern Echo Arena, home of Darlington Mowden Park, cost £5 if booked in advance or £7 on the day. Admission for under 16s is free. Tickets can be booked at: Info@mowdenpark.com or on 01325 350267.