Anyone who hopes there’s a future for international rugby league will be hoping that France don’t capitulate in Paris on Saturday. France were the lowest-ranked team after last year’s World Cup and if they don’t compete against England now questions will be asked about how they can compete against the superior Australia and New Zealand come the end of the year.
It’s a difficult one as the French seem to be facing an even greater challenge than this time last year. Bobbie Goulding is without three players injured playing for Les Catalans Dragons against Leeds: Cyril Stacul, David Ferriol and joint-captain Olivier Elima. The venue may also be less hospitable, taking place outside the rugby league heartlands where considerable support may be generated.
On top of this France are facing an England side with everything to prove following a disastrous World Cup campaign; last year England had little to prove after, under the Great Britain nametag, winning a convincing series win over New Zealand. England may go into this encounter with a little more determination to excorcise the memories of poor performances down under.
Hopefully France will rise to the occasion, as a one-sided defeat would be a huge blow to the credibility of the upcoming tournament (especially given the controversy over Australia, New Zealand and alcohol sponsorship in France). Anything bigger than last season’s 56-8 defeat in Toulouse would be a retrograde step for the French. By contrast, if they could manage something akin to Papua New Guinea’s performance against England from last season, then that would set the tournament up nicely.
However, it’s difficult to imagine France emulating the Kumuls’ performance, which was excellent. France didn’t exactly make a name for themselves in Australia either, and they’ve consistently been well beaten in these mid-season internationals. In hindsight a better choice for this tournament would have been Ireland given that they were the northern hemisphere team that got furthest in the World Cup other than England.
Still, the organisers weren’t to know that at the time, and France have the opportunity to test themselves this autumn. Even supporting England, it would be a shame to see France completely blown out the water this weekend. A win by fifty, sixty or even seventy points would hurt France without doing England much good, while a narrow England win would be great news for the French.
The mid-season internationals are certainly worth playing in order to help France improve on the playing front. Should Australia or New Zealand decide not to make the trip this year England will realistically have no-one to play against. Hopefully in years to come France will be just one of the European teams that can provide real opposition to England.
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