Photo by Patrick Bolger/Getty Images Europe
The England RU Counties XV, the representative flagship of the RFU Community Game, will make their first appearance in the North of England on Friday, March 16, 2012 when they meet their Irish counterparts, the Ulster Bank International Team, at Preston Grasshoppers RFC.
The choice of Lightfoot Green brings an early tie-up with the team for ‘Hoppers Head Coach Dave Baldwin, who was forward coach for the Counties team from 2007 until he retired earlier this year after 25 games with the team. “We are delighted to be hosting the Counties and I’m thrilled that they are coming to Lightfoot Green,” says Baldwin: “Having been involved for so long, I know what the Counties are looking for from a venue and we tick all the boxes. It’s great to see the team coming to Lancashire and hopefully this will be the first of other visits to places like Yorkshire and the North East and the South West.”
In addition to Baldwin, the Lancashire club have previous contributed two players to the Counties XV. Full-back Oliver Viney played against France and Tunisia in 2006 and toured Russia the following season, while centre Tom Hughes was a member of the squad that toured Spain successfully in June 2011.
“As a Yorkshireman, I’m delighted that we are playing in the North for the first time and I hope the rugby folk of the North West especially get behind us for what is certain to be a very serious test,” said Counties Manager Michael Old. “The Irish team have edged the results by two wins to one in the four games we have played since 2007, but we won a real thriller at Stourbridge 29-25 in 2010 on their first visit to England and I’m confident that we will have a strong line-up to take them on at ‘Hoppers. “It’s a great pitch for running rugby, which is how we like to play, and I’m very excited about the game, even at this early stage.”
The selection criterion for this game is that players must be English qualified with a primary contract with a national league club, although for the summer tour to East Africa the traditional qualifying discipline will be County Championship involvement.
Speaking on behalf of Preston Grasshoppers Rugby Committee Member Gareth Dyer said “We are thrilled to be selected as the first northern club to host an England Counties fixture. The game in the North has come in for some criticism in recent months but it remains a real hotbed of the sport and we are looking forward to staging the match”.
Details on the match arrangements for spectators and sponsors will be released in due course.