DARLINGTON Mowden Park skipper Cameron Mitchell is confident a record rugby crowd for The Northern Echo Arena on Friday evening will be a stepping stone to even better things.

Mitchell is in the England Counties XV to face the Ireland Clubs XV and says: "Running out of the tunnel at the Arena is always a great feeling. It's a great place to play and with the facilities and set-up at the club now there's no reason not to aim higher than National One."

Just over a year after moving to the Arena, Mowden are pushing hard for promotion from National Two North and have twice attracted a crowd of just over 1,000.

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That should be doubled for tonight's 7.30 kick-off with more than 1,500 tickets already sold to watch the best England players outside the professional game. The hospitality boxes sold out well in advance following a big marketing exercise by the club.

Mitchell, a Northumbria University student, was selected on the wing rather than his usual position of centre when he won his first Counties XV cap in the one-point defeat by France Federale XV in Nevers last month.

"I'm just happy to play," he said. "When we first met the coaches stated their ambition was to play exciting and positive rugby and I have no doubt that is what we will do.

"I started as a scrum half at Yarm School and I've also played a bit on the wing, so I really don't mind where I play.

"It's a massive honour to be involved. The game in Nevers was probably the best experience of my life, but playing at my home ground in front of family, friends and a big crowd is going to be even better."

Mowden team-mate Pierce Phillips, a second row forward from Great Ayton, is also in the squad, along with Blaydon forwards Robbie Kalbraier, Chris Wearmouth and Gavin Jones.

Mitchell, who finished his schooling at Sedbergh and began his club career with Darlington, will be 22 next month and said: "It was a shock to be asked to captain Mowden at such a young age.

"I agreed straightaway - it's a tremendous honour. It's a young team and there's a great spirit because everyone has bought into what we're trying to do as a club.

"I played for the North Under 16s but I thought the chance to represent an England team had gone, so to do it on my home ground is going to be a great honour."

There will be plenty of familiar faces to support Mitchell with friends from university, where he is studying estate management, and family from North Yorkshire in the crowd.

There will also be a sizeable contingent from Weardale to support Wearmouth, who works on the family farm at Eastgate.

Last season's Durham County captain, the lock forward will be making his ninth appearance for the Counties XV and has twice been on their summer tours.

"The year before last we toured Kenya and Uganda and it was an amazing experience," he said. "We were taking the game into towns where they had never seen a rugby ball and the kids all wanted to learn. I was also lucky enough to go to Belgium last year.

"The standard of the Counties games is a bit of a step up from National One, and the game in France was extremely physical against a very big side."

Advance tickets for the match are available for £5 by calling 01325 350267, or for £7 on the gate. It's free for under 16s, but they must have a ticket. Parking is available on site.

England Counties squad: Backs: Jack Adams (Cinderford), Richard Bolt (Exmouth), Chris Briers (Fylde), Chris Johnson (Fylde, captain), Stefan Liebenberg (Old Albanians), Cameron Mitchell (Mowden Park), Luke Myring (Coventry), Ben Rath (Fylde), Sean Taylor (Preston Grasshoppers), Jim Wigglesworth (Cambridge). Forwards: Rob Baldwin (Wharfedale), Ollie Cooper-Millar (Old Albanians), Jamal Ford-Robinson (Cambridge), Mark George (Stourbridge), Ben Hilton (Launceston), Gavin Jones (Blaydon), Robbie Kalbriaer (Blaydon), Adam Lewis (Fylde), Johnny Matthews (Sedgley Park), Brett McNamee (Old Albanians), Pierce Phillips (Mowden Park), Tom Stradwick (Blackheath), Chris Wearmouth (Blaydon).