The build up to last night was long and the sense of expectation had built up, with both England Counties and France Federale having trained here during the week. In the end there was a huge body of people there to watch the match with Club members from all sections present in force – from Under 6’s to Under 18’s; from Life Members and Friends of the Club to newborn babes; Men’s and Women’s sections; players from the 1st XV to the Bandits, the 5th XV. There were friends from other clubs including our good friends Askeans as well as Sidcup, Westcombe Park and Charlton Park to name but a few. There were senior people from the RFU and FFR as well as first timers through the gate. The overall count was 1,527 people. This was a true #oneClub occasion.
Congratulations to the four Club players who pulled on the white shirt for their country. : Markus Burchum, Leo Fielding, Jack Walsh and Tom Baldwin.
Grahams match report, which has been sent to The Rugby Paper, is below.
England Counties 32 France Federale 3
The memory of their dismal showing at Galashiels a fortnight ago, where they were humbled 57-27 by Scotland Club XV, was quickly wiped away on Friday night as England Counties stormed a comprehensive victory against France Federale.
On a cold, but otherwise perfect evening for rugby, and in front of a Rectory Field crowd in excess of 1,500, the Counties side tore into their French counterparts, scoring five tries in a display that delighted head coach James Shanahan.
‘Chalk and cheese,’ he said comparing the two performances. ‘I was embarrassed in Scotland and when the squad regathered on Tuesday I questioned our desire and our want and said if you’re going to put that shirt on you need to show pride in it. I think every one of them did just that tonight in an outstanding team performance against a very physical French side.’
‘In the pack captain Keith Laughlin was immense leading from the front and doing a lot of the hard-graft, James Stokes’ finishing was superb, but the stand out player for me was Joe Tarrant whose game-management and decision-making was exceptional and gave us that edge.’
Indeed, from the outset Tarrant and half-back colleague Sam Stuart injected a pace and intensity that the French struggled to live with, and after just four minutes the Ampthill fly-half found the line-break to send Stokes across for the first try, converted by Cinderford full-back Mike Wilcox.
Their early scrum dominance should have given the French a platform to work from, but three times possession was turned-over denying them headway and allowing England to counter, and despite their set-piece advantage, a strike against the head in the 33rd minute saw Stuart dart towards the goal-line, the Richmond scrum-half setting the ruck before Joe Makin appeared on the short side to finish off.
At last France got into the English twenty-two long enough long enough to force a penalty converted by fly-half Stephane Guenin, but Leo Fielding raced forward to collect the re-start, and with support for the Blackheath wing arriving quickly, Redruth hooker Tom Cowan-Dickie grounded for a 17-3 lead at the interval.
Any thoughts of a second half French revival were quickly extinguished. With the visitors from across the Channel temporarily reduced to 14-men, Tarrant sold the most outrageous dummy to race home from 45-metres and a penalty from Stokes on the hour pushed the lead beyond three scores.
Then, as the French looked for consolation, a break out from his own goal-line by Rosslyn Park’s Harry Broadbent saw Stokes on the open-sides’ shoulder to race home from half-way, the Cambridge wing converting his own score to complete a 15-point personal haul and a comfortable win ahead of the Counties three match summer tour to Canada.
‘Playing and touring with England Counties was one of the highlights of my career and I’m very excited the trip to North America this year,’ continued Shanahan.
‘We’ll be looking at this performance and the County Championship in May for players to put their hands up for selection for the 27-man squad.’
Tries: Stokes 4, 65, Makin 33, Cowan-Dickie 40, Tarrant 46
Conv: Wilcox 4, Stokes 65
Pens: Stokes 62
Pens: Guenin 38
Lastly, a special thank you to everyone who worked hard, so often behind the scenes, to make last night and every Club home match run smoothly. Chris doing the PA system, Glen, Graham and the Academy boys on the gate, the ball boys and mascots, Albert, Tony getting the pitch ready and, of course, Helen for her photos and Graham for his press work and match reports.