CORNISH All Blacks skipper Ben Hilton has expressed his pride at being selected for the England Counties squad for their mid-season international fixtures.
The 30-year-old, who captained Cornwall to the County Championship final at Twickenham last season, has been named in the 23-strong travelling party for a match against a France Federale XV in Nevers on Friday night.
The 6ft 5in second row forward also hopes to feature in the Counties squad to face an Ireland Clubs XV at Darlington Mowden Park's Northern Echo Arena on Friday, February 21.
Hilton played for the Counties last summer, featuring in their 57-5 win over a Belgium XV in June, and two years before that against Spain, but he was expecting the All Blacks' current league position, well down the National Two South table, to count against him when the selectors sat down to pick the squad for France.
Hilton told Guardian Sport: "I am very proud, and appreciative of the fact they have looked so far down the national leagues to pick the squad.
"With our current league standing, and our geographical position, it would be very easy to overlook us.
"If we had been in the top three or top five, it might have been different, so I am delighted and a bit surprised.
"I have played for the Counties in the summer before, but not in the spring internationals, so this is all new to me and they are always tough games."
Hilton is a Year Five teacher, responsible for PE and games, at St Petroc's School in Bude and is hugely grateful to the school and the staff for allowing him the time off to represent his country.
He said: "A big thank you to my headmaster, Matthew Way, and all of my colleagues there because, without their support, there is no way I could go.
"We are a small school, in a small town in Cornwall, and when I am not there, they all have to pick up the slack and fill gaps, so I am very grateful to all of them."
Also included in the England Counties squad is former Cornish Pirates scrum-half Richard Bolt, who will be savouring his first taste of Counties action.
Another ex-Pirate, Plymouth Albion head coach James Shanahan, is assistant coach to the Counties team.
The Counties' squad assembled yesterday and will train twice today before travelling to France on the Eurostar tomorrow.
Hilton's involvement in the game means he will miss the All Blacks' home league fixture against Clifton on Saturday.