Cameron Blades, who twice played against the 2001 British & Irish Lions, has been named as the coach of the Combined NSW & Queensland Country XV to face Warren Gatland’s side at Hunter Stadium, Newcastle on Tuesday 11 June.
The once capped Qantas Wallabies prop is currently coaching Sydney club side Southern Districts in Premier Rugby. He will be joined by Nelson Bay-based Todd Louden, who was in charge of Sydney University when they won last year’s Premier Rugby competition, former international lock Garrick Morgan and NSW Country coach Col Jeffs in preparing the team.
“I played my last two games in Australia against the Lions. I had the thrill of beating the Lions with Australia A in Gosford and then lined up against them the following weekend for NSW,” said Blades, who then headed to Glasgow where he played until retiring in 2003.
“The opportunity to play against the Lions is an unforgettable experience. Because they travel here only every 12 years, you can miss out on the experience even if you have a career of incredible longevity.
“I consider myself lucky to have run out against them in 2001. Those memories are certainly some of the fondest of my Rugby career.
“Now I’m really looking forward to the opportunity to coach a team against the Lions. I will be emphasising to the Country players involved just how important this is and what a milestone it is in their careers.
“It is such a great occasion, such a great challenge, and whoever gets that opportunity in the Combined NSW-Queensland Country team will understand it is a genuine stepping stone for their progression in the game. I want them all buying into that opportunity and to climb into the Lions in Newcastle.”
Blades confirmed the Combined NSW-Queensland Country team will be Origin-based and players now residing in city locations or plying their trade professionally with Super Rugby franchises will be eligible providing they have been identified as having true Country roots.
“We have a spread sheet of available players,” said Blades. “It includes players currently with Super Rugby franchises, with Premier Rugby clubs in Sydney and Brisbane, or currently playing with the NSW Country or Queensland Country representative teams.
“We are picking the side on an Origin basis and selection will be on merit. We want the best side out there and anyone who fits the criteria is in the running.
“We still have to sort through the availability of some Super Rugby based players we might be interested in, and we hope to have that finalised over the next 10 days.”
“It will be a great opportunity for players from different team environments to mix together with the common bond of being Country blokes – boasting a hard work ethic and down to earth attitude. I’ve got real confidence we can give the Lions a fantastic challenge,” he added.
A 40-man Combined Country squad will be announced on Friday, May 24 with numbers culled to a game day 23 by the following Friday, May 31.
Blades is in his fourth season on the coaching staff at Southern Districts and was also a technical consultant to the Fijian national team on their European tour last year. While he played only one Test, against England in 1997, he also made three end of season tours to Europe in 1996, 1997 and 1998 with Qantas Wallabies.