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Pope relishes England Counties challenge

31 January 2014

  • New head coach set for French test
  • Talented squad aim to repeat last year’s win
England Counties Head Coach Steve Pope

Photo: RFU Archive

Steve Pope is relishing his first match as head coach of the England Counties XV against the France Federale XV in this evening’s (Friday, January 31) international in Nevers (8pm).

Pope, who is head coach of National Two South club Bishop’s Stortford, has stepped up from assistant coach of the England Counties XV as successor to Jan Bonney.

Pope now has Plymouth Albion head coach James Shanahan as his assistant and he has also taken charge of a new-look squad that will have six new caps in the starting line-up and six more on the bench in France.

“It’s a big thing being in charge for the first time and I’m very excited about that,” Pope said.

“James Shanahan has come on board. He’s a good all-round guy and there is a lot of experience in the management team with people like Mike Old, the team manager, who do an excellent job.

“I’ve been involved with the side for a little while now but it’s an exciting time, especially playing France in France.”

England travelled to France today after a morning training session, which followed a full day of training in London on Wednesday.

The squad, comprised of players from clubs in National One and National Two North and South, assembled on Tuesday evening. Despite selection headaches caused by injuries and the suspension of captain Rob Baldwin for accumulating three yellow cards for foul play this season, Pope believes the Counties have assembled a talented squad.

“Selection for this match has not been straightforward but there is clearly a lot of talent in the squad,” said Pope.

“It’s great for these boys to have the chance to play for their country and to be a part of the Counties XV, which is the flagship team for the community game in England.

“Everyone is delighted to be here and the players are proud to be representing their country.

“Their selection is recognition of all the hard work and commitment that they have put in for their clubs.

“It’s also an opportunity for them to be taken out of a club environment and to play with a different group of players, some of whom they are used to playing against.”

England Counties beat France Federale 27-7 in snowy conditions at Ealing last season but Pope expects the French to be a tough proposition on home soil.

“Last season the French were very abrasive and very physical. They were strong up front and they had two good half backs,” said Pope, head coach of National Two South side Bishop’s Stortford.

“We matched them physically and we played some good football in difficult conditions. But I would expect them to be a different proposition in France.”