New England RU Counties XV coach Ben Ryan has committed himself and his team to a brand of rugby that removes blinkers and shackles when his team face Tunisia at Broadstreet tomorrow (June 3, 2pm).
The Counties XV has no branding, but there is a determination in the camp, driven by manager Jim Robinson and keenly supported by coach Ryan, that the style of the team will be synonymous with enterprise and ambition.
"It’s been really exciting and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed myself in the last two days," says Newbury Director of Rugby Ryan: "It’s been very rewarding trying to get the boys playing in a slightly different way and seeing them really embracing the ideas. Obviously winning on Saturday is very important - I just think the way we are aiming to play will give us more chance of winning. But I’m also looking forward to them doing what we have been working on and walking the walk. It’s all very well talking about it and doing things in practice, but I want to see them being prepared to back themselves and have real ambition on Saturday."
And what can supporters expect to see from this new-look approach?
"What I always do is to put in place a framework and within that the players make the decisions as situations develop. In the backs you’ll see different formation instead of the normal set backline stuff and there will be a lot of variety in how we try to attack. In the forwards I’ll be looking for good lines of running and lots of handling and decision making by the forwards on the hoof.
"We’ll be trying to keep the tempo as high as possible for as long as possible. Instead of playing a territory-based game, we’ll be playing a tempo-based game and if the tempo is good, we’ll be aiming to play with as much ambition as possible from anywhere on the pitch.
"Obviously there is some pressure on the players in that they are wearing an England shirt and we’re telling them to go out and really have a go within the framework we’ve given you. The rest is down to you.
"I hope that leaves the players unfettered and free to show what they can do. It will bring mistakes and misdirection at times, but that’s part of the learning curve and the challenge will be to get things back on track when problems occur."
It might be argued that a game against Tunisia represents an ideal opportunity to experiment, but while the North African side is not among the International Rugby Board elite, they arrive in the Midlands with their sights firmly set on next year’s Rugby World Cup.
Their appearance at Broadstreet is their last game together before they set off on a World Cup adventure that will see them playing against Kenya in Nairobi tomorrow week and in Windhoek against Namibia before return games against their two African rivals in Tunis.
Success would earn them qualification to play in the group led by France and Ireland, so the incentives to get it right, starting in Warwickshire tomorrow, could not be greater.
But Devon prop Wayne Reed flags up the mood of the Counties XV camp. "To be called into the squad and to play against France was a massive thrill for me, especially at this later stage in my career." He says.
"To wear an England shirt and to win in it in France was huge and to get the chance to do it all over again is brilliant. And to have a handful of my Devon mates in the squads adds to the experience. I can’t wait to get playing.
"It’s a good set of lads, the coaching has been challenging and refreshing and it great just to be part of it all. But now we want to win."
England Counties XV: Oliver Viney (Preston Grasshoppers & Lancashire); Hamish Smales (Tynedale & Northumberland), Chris Malherbe (Wharfedale & Yorkshire), Chris Briers (Orrell & Lancashire), Neil Kerfoot (Waterloo & Lancashire); Ollie Thomas (Moseley & North Midlands), Paul Knight (Birmingham Pertemps Bees & Gloucestershire); Duncan Cormack (Esher & Surrey), Joe Duffey (Nottingham & Notts, Lincs & Derby), Wayne Reed (Launceston & Devon), Brett Luxton (Launceston & Devon), Paul Arnold (Nottingham & Lancashire), Mark Evans (Moseley & North Midlands), Neil Spence (Bradford & Bingley & Yorkshire), James Rodwell (Moseley & North Midlands).
Replacements: Kenny Bingham (Newbury & Oxfordshire), Ed Barnes (Plymouth Albion & Devon), David Knight (Birmingham Pertemps Bees & Gloucestershire), Ryan Hopkins (Plymouth Albion & Devon), Glen Cooper (Newbury & Somerset), David Campton (Coventry & Warwickshire), John Munro (Nuneaton & Warwickshire).