England into unknown for Fylde big night

Fylde fly-half Johnson - in the England squad
Fylde fly-half Johnson - in the England squad

The England Counties rugby union XV will face an unknown quantity when the sides meet at Fylde’s Woodlands Memorial Ground on Friday night (kick-off 7.30pm)

This will be the first meeting between the two sides but Scotland’s narrow victory over Ireland Club XV at Gala earlier this month offers a possible form line.

The England squad includes Fylde quarter Chris Johnson, Oli Brennand, Jordan Dorrington and Evan Stewart.

Steve Pope, the England Counties head coach, has managed to obtain some footage of Scotland’s win over Ireland and believes another close contest could be in prospect at Fylde.

Pope admitted: “We are not really sure what to expect to be honest,” Pope said.

“I’m not sure how much we can read into that performance compared with our game against Ireland last season.

“It was a cold and wet night up at Gala and it looked like quite a physical game. I think Scotland will aspire to be abrasive and they will look to move the ball but hopefully they will be more worried about us.

“We will give them the respect that they deserve but if we can get the right things in place I think it will be a good contest.

“It will be interesting because we don’t know what to expect. We will try to make sure that we have a good set piece, that we have good leaders on the field and give the players a good framework to play within.

“We don’t want to be too rigid and say: do this and do that. James Shanahan, the assistant coach, and I are quite similar in our thought processes of what we like to do.

“But part of the luxury of coaching is being able to pick players that you know who can play in a number of different ways. When they see a space you back them to make the right decisions.”

England Counties’ preparations have been disrupted by the withdrawal of four of their originally selected squad through injuries, unavailability and family reasons.

The revised squad includes eight new caps, including Stewart and Dorrington, who will sample the experience of playing for the flagship representative team of the community game in England for the first time.

“There is value in having played for England Counties. It’s a really positive experience as a player,” Pope said.

“You want guys who have played club rugby for a long time who are farmers, who are doctors, who are policeman, who are builders or teachers who wouldn’t normally get the opportunity to play for England. It is a massive achievement for them.”

England Counties XV will play France Federale XV at Perigeux on March 20 and will then play two matches in Romania on their summer tour in early June.

Tickets for the England Counties XV v Scotland Club XV international at Fylde can be obtained from: Fylde RFC, The Woodlands Memorial Ground, Blackpool Road, Lytham St Annes, Lancashire FY8 4EL. Telephone: 01253 734733 or e-mail: info@fylderugby.co.uk

Prices are: adult £8, concessions £5, under 16s £2, under 16s accompanied by an adult, free.