ENGLAND Counties launched their three-match tour to Spain with an eight-try demolition of a Madrid XV, their 53-24 success containing some quality moments laced with the inevitable disjointed moments which invariably beset a side coming together for the first time.
Though the squad has been impressive in it preparations, match conditions against a sturdy and determined Madrid side present a much sterner test of cohesion and understanding, but coaches Dave Baldwin and Jan Bonney have plenty of positives to take from this first outing.
“I thought we gave a workmanlike performance,” said Manager Mike Old: “Everybody on the team has made a positive contribution. There were a couple of bits and piece in the continuity department that were disappointing, but for a first game we did very well.”
The Counties took an early grip on proceedings and always looked the more dangerous of the two sides throughout the first-half.
A first-minute penalty by fly-half Ollie Thomas was followed on 15 minutes by a try from centre Tom Hughes, the forwards putting Madrid under pressure with a tremendous driving maul and Thomas supplying the pass which allowed the Lancashire player to drive through for a try that Thomas converted.
Fly-half Santiago Fernandez cut the deficit with a penalty for the home side, but a great piece of work by skipper Gareth Collins on the half-hour extended the Counties lead.
Collins contribution began when he chased back to gather a dangerous kick and chase by the Madrid backs. He then found space on the flank to launch a counter attack and when his team-mates developed his initiative, he was on hand to collect a slick back-handed pass from Thomas and gallop through the remnants of the defence for a try.
Thomas was again the provider on 35 minutes, his precise crossfield kick being gathered by wingman Curtis Wilson, who had the strength to drive through the tackler for a try at the corner.
The sin-binning of flanker Tom Stradwick gave Madrid some momentum as the game moved into injury time and they managed a forward drive that ended in a try by lock forward Bartolo Durand, that Fernandez converted to leave the half-time score at 20-10.
The second-half brought a further five tries for the tourists, who showed flashes of quality punctuated by a couple of defensive lapses that brought the home side tries through Aldo Guidi and Sergio Fernandez, Santiago Fernandez converting both.
There was never any threat to the Counties dominance once scrum-half Harry Peck hd launched the second-half onslaught with a smart solo burst after 46 minutes, Thomas converting and though progress was curbed with a yellow card for prop Martin Kent, the Counties were never under pressure.
Prop Craig Voisey, centre Steve Hamilton, wingman Ollie Brennand and flanker Tom Strudwick took the try tally to eight, with Thomas finishing with 13 points from a penalty and five conversions.
England Counties XV (v Madrid XV in Madrid, Saturday, June 4, 2011, ko 6pm): Gareth Collins (Leicester Lions & Warwickshire); Curtis Wilson (Leeds & Yorkshire), Tom Hughes (Preston Grasshoppers & Lancashire), Steve Hamilton (Rotherham & Kent), Ollie Brennand (Fylde & Lancashire); Ollie Thomas (Moseley & North Midlands), Harry Peck (Tynedale & Northumberland); Craig Voisey (Moseley & North Midlands), Tommy Taylor (Sale Jets & Cheshire), Martin Kent (Macclesfield & Cheshire), Ben Hilton (Launceston & Cornwall), Richard Boyle (Tynedale & Northumberland), Tom Stradwick (Henley & Kent), Aaron Myers (Westoe & Durham), Ben Sparks (Stourbridge & Gloucestershire).
Replacements (all used): Matt Hall (Blaydon & Northumberland), Rob Schillaci (Hertford & Hertfordshire), Steve Pape (Rosslyn Park & Somerset), Jack Preece (Birmingham Solihull & Gloucestershire), Charlie Mulchrone (Macclesfield & Cheshire), Aaron Penberthy (Redruth & Cornwall), Peter Hodgkinson (Ealing & Cheshire) Sin bin: Stradwick 42; Kent 57
Madrid XV: P Pereyra; P Palacios, L Barbarit, B Villalba, C Molina; S Fernandez (capt), J Santos; G Sabe, J Anaya, A Onega, B Durand, S Pingica, M Ramierez, A Tostao, A Blanco.
Replacements: A Guidi, A Torres, J Garcia, P Cvenca, S Fernandez.
Referee: J Mourinha (Portugal)