- Unbeaten Counties XV return to England
- Leonard’s shirt presentation appreciated
Photo: RFU Archive
England Counties XV acting head coach James Shanahan has hailed his team's tour to Georgia as a success both on and off the pitch.
Shanahan, the head coach of Greene King IPA Championship club Plymouth Albion, took charge of the Counties XV after Steve Pope was unable to travel to Georgia because of teaching commitments.
Shanahan formed a new coaching team with Alan Paver, the experienced Cornish Pirates prop, and they guided the Counties XV to contrasting victories over Emerging Georgia in Tblisi.
England Counties eased to a 48-23 win in the opener but snatched a 15-14 victory in the second with a close-range try from flanker Ollie Cooper-Millar.
Bu there was more to the tour than just rugby, and a number of the Counties XV squad also took part in a coaching session at a school on a mountainside around 50 minutes’ drive from Tblisi.
“It was a fantastic tour all round,” Shanahan said. “The squad gelled together very quickly and the players were very professional in their approach.
“Jason Leonard flew out for the first match as RFU Junior Vice President and he presented the jerseys to the players who played in that match, which was a very emotional moment.
“He also emailed us before our second match, which was really appreciated. His presence and words meant a lot to the players who were all very proud to wear an England jersey and to be the flagship for community rugby in Georgia.
“Both games were very physical, as we expected them to be, and Georgia strengthened their squad for the second match with some senior players.
“We showed a lot of character to win the second game and to come back with an unbeaten record was an outstanding achievement.
“We were beaten by a point by both France Federale and the Ireland Club XV earlier in the season so we particularly enjoyed winning a tight one with a 13-man driving maul.
“The hospitality was superb and we were very well looked after wherever we went. Tblisi is a beautiful city.
“The Georgians are really passionate about their rugby, they were delighted with the way the tour went and they are keen for the relationship to continue.
“It’s not just about rugby and the players that went on the school visit enjoyed the day and got a lot out of it.
“Wherever we went people saw our England T-shirts and wanted to chat to us about rugby.
“It was a brilliant tour with a fantastic group of people who were great ambassadors for England.”