Pinkus and Keen overjoyed to be selected to tour with the England Counties U20 squad

14 May 2018 18:02 | Sara Raine

DEVON players Mitch Pinkus and Max Keen are overjoyed at securing places in the England Counties’ under-20 squad to tour Georgia this month.

The pair were named in England’s 26-man party on Sunday after trials in Derby, where they represented the South West.

They will now fly out to Tbliisi on Tuesday ahead of England’s first match against Georgia’s under-20 this coming Saturday.

They will be joined on the plane by former Barnstaple and Devon under-20 lock Hallam Chapman, who is playing for Lancashire while studying at Manchester University.

Both Pinkus and Keen admitted they could not believe it when they saw their names listed as being in the England squad at a presentation at the end of the weekend’s trials, which were attended by 92 invited players.

“I was stunned to be honest,” said Exmouth flanker Keen. “It’s just mind-boggling as I never thought I would make it this far.

“The whole trial was amazing. It was a fantastic experience.”

Ivybridge fly-half Pinkus added:  “When I saw it (the list of names on the screen) I don’t think it sunk in. It kind of went over my head.

“It only really settled in about half-an-hour later when everybody else had gone apart from the 26 lads who got in. Then it hit me how far I had come. I was just like thinking ‘I can’t believe this is real’.”

Pinkus has always wanted to pull on an England shirt.

He said: “It has always been a dream, especially growing up coming through the 16s and 18s and whenever you were selected for anything.

“I am really looking forward to wearing that rose and white England shirt. Anyone who plays rugby aspires to play for their country. I just can’t wait for it. I am really overwhelmed by it.”

The England Counties’ call-up has capped a good week for Pinkus who last Monday helped Ivybridge win the Devon Senior Cup for the first time in their history.

“Who would have thought a week ago I would be packing to go on a plane to Georgia with 25 other lads with the England squad?” he said. “It is still so surreal and still has not fully hit home.

“Today I have been rushing around trying to pack my stuff. I only got back yesterday and I’m going tomorrow.”

He added:  “They say this is going to be the hardest tour yet. They keep trying to make the games harder each year, but we are going to be playing Georgia’s international under-20 team when we are only a counties’ side, so that’s going to be a massive test for us.”

Georgia are ranked in the world’s top 12 playing nations and are renowned for the forward play, which is something Keen is looking forward to experiencing.

“The Georgians are known for the physicality,” said Keen. “They always front-up. Personally, I’m looking forward to the big collisions and the breakdown work that I’m going to have to be doing.

“It is hopefully going to be a very physical but rewarding series of games.”

Keen does not have a conventional rugby playing background. He took up the sport in Switzerland and played in Croatia for five years before moving back to the UK last summer.

He has had a good season forcing his way into Exmouth’s first team squad and helping Devon under-20s reach the Division Two semi-finals. He was the county’s top try scoring this season.

“This is the cherry on the top of it all really,” he said. “This is my first year back in the UK, so it’s all very exciting.

“It is a hell of achievement from the Devon squad to have two of their players in the England Counties squad. It shows how much potential Devon has.”

Pinkus is the only player Keen knows in the squad. However, Pinkus does know a couple, including former Devon forward Chapman.

Fellow Ivybridge and Devon player Robin Luscombe also attended the England Counties trials in Derby as part of the South West squad and was unlucky to miss out, with competition for second-row spots particularly strong.