- Wharfdale's Rob Baldwin to captain side at Nevers on January 31
- Eight newcomers in squad with two places still to be filled
England Counties XV have named eight newcomers in their squad for their international against the France Federale XV at Nevers on Friday, January 31 (8pm).
The squad, which still has two places to be filled, also includes 13 players with previous Counties XV experience, including four who played in last season’s victory over France Federale at Ealing and eight who played in the 57-5 win over Belgium in the Counties XV’s last match in June.
The uncapped players are Jamal Ford-Robinson, Johnny Matthews, Alex Penney, Pierce Phillips, Robbie Stapley, Richard Bolt, Cameron Mitchell and Kiba Richards.
The Counties XV will be captained by Wharfedale number eight Rob Baldwin who led them on their tour to East Africa two years ago and who has Greene King IPA Championship experience with Leeds Carnegie.
Steve Pope steps up from assistant coach to be the Counties XV head coach to succeed Jan Bonney who has stepped down after four years in charge. James Shanahan, head coach at Greene King IPA Championship club Plymouth Albion, will assist Pope.
“The squad has plenty of experience with a number of players who were involved in last year's victory against France Federale,” said England Counties manager Mike Old.
“That was a hugely physical game and we expect the game in Nevers to be extremely tough but we believe that we have the squad to match the French and the creativity to give ourselves scoring opportunities.
“There is a blend of experience with some young players who are showing huge promise with their performances this season. I know the coaches are looking forward to getting the squad together a few days before the game in Nevers.”
The Counties XV, the representative flagship of the community game in England, will assemble on January 28 and train twice on January 29 before they travel to France on Eurostar the following day.
They will then face the Ireland Clubs XV at the Northern Echo Arena, home of Darlington Mowden Park on February 21 (7.30pm).
“These fixtures come in the middle of a critical part of the league season for National Leagues clubs and many clubs are carrying extensive injury lists,” Old said.
“There has been strong communication with the clubs who have been hugely supportive to their players to give them an opportunity to represent their country in these fixtures.”
England Counties XV squad to face France Federale XV
Backs: Jack Adams (Cinderford), Richard Bolt (Exmouth), Chris Briers (Fylde), Chris Johnson (Fylde), Cameron Mitchell (Darlington Mowden Park), Kiba Richards (Worthing), Sean Taylor (Preston Grasshoppers), Jim Wigglesworth (Cambridge).
Forwards: Rob Baldwn (Wharfedale, captain), Jamal Ford-Robinson (Cambridge), Ben Hilton (Launceston), Robbie Kalbriaer (Blaydon), Alex MacKenzie (Rosslyn Park), Brett McNamee (Old Albanians), Johnny Matthews (Sedgley Park), Alex Penney (Henley), Pierce Phillips (Darlington Mowden Park), Sam Shires (Rosslyn Park), Robbie Stapley (Henley), Tom Stradwick (Blackheath), Chris Wearmouth (Blaydon).