Cornish All Blacks star Ben's England honour
CORNISH All Blacks skipper Ben Hilton enjoyed the "amazing atmosphere", despite England Counties losing 16-15 to a France Federale XV in Nevers.
The Counties looked to be heading towards a fine victory across the Channel as they led 15-13 entering the dying moments of the game.
However, they were adjudged to have collapsed a maul right in front of their posts, and the French slotted the penalty to snatch a dramatic win.
Hilton, who is a teacher at St Petroc's School in Bude, played the full 80 minutes, and said it had been a very enjoyable experience.
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"I am really proud to represent England Counties, but gutted with the result," the Cornwall county captain told Guardian Sport.
"It was a very competitive game, massively enjoyable, and in an immaculate stadium quite similar to Plymouth Argyle's Home Park.
"There was also a good crowd, and it was a good advert for what England Counties is all about, but we were just unlucky at the end and devastated not to get the win.
"It was quite a hostile environment to play in, with only a sprinkling of English supporters in amongst 6,000 French fans, but it was an amazing atmosphere and on to Ireland for us now."
The Counties play an Ireland Clubs XV at Darlington Mowden Park's Northern Echo Arena on Friday, February 21, when Hilton again hopes to be involved.
The heavy pitch was a big factor in the French match, after all of the recent rain.
The 30-year-old Hilton explained: "The surface was very, very wet and the conditions were not ideal, and maybe we should have adapted a little bit quicker to them.
"We knew what the French were going to bring, and they brought it. They were very direct, very physical, but we eventually got to deal with that and got parity there, but we just lacked that killer finish.
"If we could have put away one more two-on-one, I think we would have pulled away, but they kept with us all the time."
Joining Hilton in the Counties' starting line-up was former Cornish Pirates scrum-half Richard Bolt, and Hilton said: "Bolty played well and played the majority of the game, and he tried to keep a high tempo."
The Nevers ground is the home of French club USON, for whom Jack Smales, the brother of former All Blacks winger Hamish Smales, plays in the Federale One division.
The Counties' tries came from an outstanding individual effort by Cambridge full back Jim Wigglesworth and one from close range by captain and Fylde fly half Chris Johnson.
Johnson converted Wigglesworth's try and he also landed a penalty, but Johnson's attempt to convert his own try was charged down, which was to prove a key moment as the match unfolded.