STUART Lancaster takes his young England squad to South Africa tomorrow, but on Friday a tour party closer to home leaves for the same continent.
Having impressed in National One and for Gloucestershire this season, Cinderford duo Sam Wilkes and Rory Teague have been called up for the England Counties.
While Chris Robshaw and company will do their best to build on an impressive Six Nations campaign and England’s biggest win over the Barbarians, the Cinderford pair have their minds on other matters.
England Counties is the representative flagship of the county and community game and after being founded in 2002 has visited North and South America, Europe and the Far East.
Nine members of the 26-man party have previous Counties touring experience but the squad will be treading new ground when they visit Africa for the first time.
The 17-day, three-match schedule will incorporate the largest tour outreach programme ever undertaken.
Working with the Tag Rugby Trust, the squad and management will carry out frequent coaching sessions and visits, aiming to raise the profile of rugby and leave a lasting legacy for the host unions.
The squad play Uganda and a combined East Africa side in Kampala before taking on an East Africa Invitation XV in Nairobi.
Team manager Michael Old said the work they will be doing to spread rugby means it is more than an ordinary tour.
He said: “The Ugandan and Kenyan Rugby Unions are looking forward to the prospect of having an England team on their soil.
“During a recent visit, we saw the pace, skill and commitment of the countries’ players and they will be highly motivated to perform against us.
“The squad will be faced with playing challenges very different to their club and county games and the unpredictability of the opposition is one of the most exciting elements of touring for both players and coaches.
“During the recce we also visited some of the schools and orphanages that we are going to be working with together with the Tag Rugby Trust charity.
“I am confident it will be a very rewarding and humbling experience for all involved as we make a positive impact on our East African hosts both on and off the pitch.”
For hooker Wilkes and fly-half Teague, their inclusion rounds off rollercoaster seasons.
Following four years in France, Teague returned to his home county and had a slow start to life at Dockham Road initially.
However, with a deadly pass off either hand plus an accurate boot, he has worked his way to the top of the scoring charts in the third tier of English rugby.
For Wilkes it is a different story, because last September he lay in intensive care following a near-fatal and unusual bout of cellulites.
At times like those rugby ceases to matter, but the fact he returned so quickly and ended the campaign strongly is testament to the hours of slog he put in.
The journey will also be a first for Wilkes as the well-travelled front rower has visited many corners of the globe but has never been to Africa.
After making his Counties debut in the 34-16 victory over their Irish counterparts, the Ulster Bank International team, in March, the significance of the trip is not lost on him.
Having been poked and prodded by doctors earlier in the season, Wilkes had better get used to travelling vaccinations.
When the squad returns on June 17, just three days later Wilkes will finally go on his long-awaited honeymoon to Jamaica after tying the knot on New Year’s Eve.
That 11-day holiday ends on July 2, with Cinderford pre-season training beginning the next day – which also just happens to be Wilkes’ birthday.
He said: “I travelled a lot over the years but Africa is one of the places I have never been so it is a great opportunity to see the country and represent my country.
“In Chile they went into schools and helped with education and spread the word of rugby and tried to get kids playing and interested in it.
“Kenya are great at Sevens but they have not really got a 15-a-side so it is a good way of helping them and hopefully make it a stronger aspect for them.
“Uganda have put out a team but are not world renowned or even on the world stage so it would be good to play them.
“When you think of Zimbabwe, they are the same, they have Sevens teams but have not expanded much into the 15-man game so hopefully we can help that.
“You have to carry yourself well and be careful of what you say and who you say it to and how you act, so there is a lot of responsibility in itself.
“Not many people get the opportunity to do this so it is not just about playing rugby, it is how your personality on and off the pitch comes across towards people.
“I have visited Peru, Tonga and Fiji and the people are so warm and kind and when you go there you cannot act arrogant or rude, which is very important.
“When I played in the Ireland game that was a last minute call-up – they had someone drop out – so at the back of my mind I always thought I was just slotting in.
“This time they have picked me ahead of everyone else, so you know you are being picked on your ability during the season and the impression I made against Ireland.
“Last time I was the only guy from Gloucestershire and I knew one or two other people.
“But having Rory there is good because it will help my game having a familiar player and being used to playing with him, so hopefully he can help me show off my strengths.
“I only had half a season and after games your body is shattered anyway because of the hours you put in.
“I had to double up on training away from the club to try and get myself back as fit as possible so it has been a long old season.
“Hopefully I can get a bit of a break when I come back and pull a few strings and get a little time off!”
Fixtures: Uganda in Kampala, Tuesday, June 5; East Africa in Kampala, Saturday, June 9; East Africa Invitation XV in Nairobi, Saturday, June 16.