France saga could provide extra twist to end of season European Championship

James Gordon
Laurent Frayssinous France and Jack Welsby England SWpix

Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix

The ongoing saga surrounding the 2025 World Cup is likely to provide a new twist to the end of season European Championship.

The Euros are due to return in the autumn for the first time since 2018, when France won the tournament ahead of Wales to secure qualification for the 2021 World Cup.

A re-structuring of the competition was planned to kick off in 2020, only to be aborted by the COVID pandemic, and then the scheduled 2022 event was shelved due to the postponement of the World Cup.

The new format for 2023 sees two groups of four competing for what was meant to be two additional places at the World Cup in 2025.

But that was arranged on the basis of France being the hosts – and their automatic place at the tournament is likely to be rescinded.

That will then heap the pressure on Laurent Frayssinous’ men to navigate successfully through the European Championship to ensure their berth in 2025.

Initially, the plan was that the two best placed teams outside England and France at the Euros would earn qualification for the 2025 World Cup. The next two best placed teams would go in to the European repechage qualifying next year for further places.

There is now uncertainty over the qualification process and indeed the World Cup itself as the International Rugby League federation scrambles to find a replacement host with little over two years until it’s scheduled to go ahead.

IRL chief Troy Grant has already confirmed that there will be discussions about the qualification series at their next meeting in July, with a planned Americas championship set to be postponed.

The European Championship is expected to still go ahead as planned, with France in Group B alongside Italy, Spain and Wales. A European Rugby League board meeting is due to take place on Friday to review the situation.

Although the group draw and schedule has previously been announced, specifics such as times and venues of matches remain unknown.

There has already been some controversy over the tournament, with England drawn in Group A with Ireland, Scotland and Serbia.

England have arranged a series with Tonga which clashes with the Euros, which means that it will likely be a second string England line-up participating. Although that has previously been referenced as England Knights, it is believed that for official records, the results will go down as full England international matches.

England are guaranteed their spot at the 2025 World Cup having progressed to at least the quarter-finals of the last tournament.

The four countries to have shown interest in hosting the 2025 World Cup

France playing southern hemisphere opposition?

Eyes will be on France to see how they react from the disappointment of losing hosting rights to the World Cup, which was meant to be the catalyst to a bright new future.

There is talk of them heading to the southern hemisphere for a tour in 2024, but they won’t be facing Tonga when they visit the northern hemisphere later this year.

Tonga coach Kristian Woolf: “(Playing France) is something we’d love to do and look in to. Right at the minute, it’s not something that we’re actually looking at. It was fairly drawn out in getting this three game series (against England) over the line, there’s a fair bit of work that went in to it.

“Financially and all that kind of thing, there is a fair commitment to it so we want to make sure we do it properly.

“We want to make sure not to bite off more than we can chew and we also want to make sure that we want to tie in with the RLPA’s guidelines as well so right at the minute, there is no discussions there at all, whether that changes or not, I’m not quite sure.”

Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson, also coaching director of France, is believed to be the driving force behind France’s plans to tour in 2024.

There remain doubts over whether the 2025 World Cup even happens, due to the timescales involved.

Either way, it looks like France will at least have home games against Italy and Spain to look forward to later this year, before a trip to face Wales. The European Championship final, tipped to between France and England, is likely to be held in France on November 11.

Sport still has a bright future in France, insists European Rugby League chief