- Old steps down as manager of England Counties XV
- Move marks the end of a seven-year involvement with the Counties set-up
Mike Old admits that there will be something missing in his life following the end of his seven-year involvement with the England Counties XV after their recent Ireland Club XV meeting at Darlington Mowden Park.
The former Morpeth, Tynedale, Esher and Northumberland fly half has had a long and happy association with the Counties XV, the representative flagship of community rugby in England, serving initially as a selector then as assistant manager during a period that included tours to Japan and Korea and Canada.
He succeeded Danny Hodgson, now the RFU Council Member for Northumberland, as manager of the Counties XV three years ago and was in charge of a successful tour to East Africa two years ago.
But Old, the son of former England fly half Alan, retired after England Counties suffered a one-point defeat against Ireland Club XV to concentrate on his family and business commitments in his day job as director of an investment bank.
He leaves having made many good friends across the country and with the England Counties XV in excellent shape.
“The England Counties XV is a wonderful concept and I’ve met a lot of good people and made some very good friends through my involvement with the team,” Old said.
“The best thing about it is that you meet a broad spectrum of people from across the game and you appreciate that there is a huge amount of rugby-playing talent outside the full-time game.
“Some players choose not to go into full-time rugby, others haven’t had the opportunity but the England Counties XV has helped them to showcase their talent.
“For some playing for the England Counties XV will be the pinnacle of their rugby career, for others it is a springboard to something else.”
During his long association with the Counties XV, Old has seen a steady flow of players move from part-time rugby into the Aviva Premiership with Will Fraser and Ben Spencer (Saracens), Rob Cook and Rupert Harden (Gloucester), Tommy Taylor (Sale) and Fergus Mulchrone (London Irish) among those who have made the step up.
Old is justifiably proud of the part the Counties XV has played in their development and of the professional environment created by the Counties XV’s small coaching and off-field team.
“We treat players as professional people. None of them get paid to play for the Counties XV and they have to take holiday from their day jobs if they go on our summer tour,” Old said.
“But we give them the experience of playing for an England team and representing their country in international matches.
“People are gobsmacked about what they come into. Players like Jack Adams and Luke Myring, who have been involved in full-time rugby for a long time, have been impressed by how well we are organised.
“We don’t have a big coaching or back-up team but the coaching team of Steve Pope and James Shanahan, and Jan Bonney before them, and the medical team of Andy Smith and Rachel Galley are outstanding in what they do.”
Old may have found it difficult to adjust to life without the England Counties XV in the first week since he stepped down from his honorary post, but he will take plenty of treasured memories into retirement.
“There is a very special bond formed between players who represent the Counties XV. I see it going to clubs around the country. You will see players from opposing teams in a group at the end of a match chatting to each other because they have that shared experience,” Old said.
“It takes players outside the comfort zone of playing with the same people every week and to work with new coaches and different players.
“I have loved every minute of it. I am going to miss the players, to miss the team and miss the experience.
“There have been a lot of laughs over the years and there have been some very special times, which I shall always treasure. I have been incredibly lucky.”