SOUTHEND Rugby Club winger Mark Billings has received his first ever international call-up.

The Pitsea-based 21-year-old has been selected in a 22-man England Counties squad. And he is set to make his debut in this Friday’s clash against Ireland in Donnybrook, Dublin.

“I’m just ecstatic and incredibly excited,” said Billings, a former Chalvedon School pupil. “I didn’t really know much about it until I got the phone call and I couldn’t believe it.

“Ben Green (Southend’s director of rugby) had put me forward and people had been to watch me play. It’s brilliant and obviously a real honour for me too.”

The England Counties squad is made up of players at clubs in National Two plus National Three South and North It is also the third highest level possible for an English player, behind the full squad and the Saxons.

And the call up could also lead to Billings fulfilling a lifetime ambition as England Counties next game is being played against France in March at Twickenham.

“It’s always been a boyhood dream of mine to play there,” said Billings.

“I think it’s the same for every rugby player and to achieve it would just be fantastic. I know there wouldn’t be anything like 82,000 fans there but it wouldn’t matter at all.

The call up has also boosted Billings after a difficult season at Southend. The Seasiders have suffered 12 straight league defeats and are second from bottom in National Two.

“It’s been a horrible time for us,” said Billings who is now in his third term at the club after signing from Basildon.

“We haven’t done as well as we would’ve liked but the plus side is that our team is very young so the future here is still very bright.”