France being awarded the hosting rights for the 2025 World Cup is a sign of how rugby league has progressed there in recent years; the current squad will reach the quarter-finals of this year’s tournament if they beat Samoa in Warrington on Sunday
Last Updated: 28/10/22 11:47am
Regardless of what happens in the final Group A match against Samoa on Sunday, French rugby league appears to be riding a wave of optimism as the nation prepares to host the next World Cup in three years’ time.
Of course, students of rugby league history will know there has been many a false dawn across the Channel when it comes to the 13-man code in the past. National team head coach and former player Laurent Frayssinous is probably just as aware of that as anyone else too.
Nevertheless, even in the wake of last Saturday’s 42-18 defeat to England, the 45-year-old chose to focus on the positives and is in no doubt France are showing signs of once again becoming a team capable of competing with the other big names on the international stage.
“We played England 12 months ago and I can see from last year to this year, there is a massive, massive improvement in how we play the game, the way we attack and the way we defend,” Frayssinous, whose side will reach the quarter-finals of this year’s World Cup with victory over Samoa, said.
“We keep on building, we keep on learning, and we learnt a few things against England. We go and play Samoa with confidence because I think we deserve some credit for the last two games.
“We started to build something so we could lay the platform. The players know our philosophy and what we expect them to do on the field.”
The decision to award France the hosting rights for the next global gathering, having hosted the inaugural edition in 1954 and again in 1972, is another sign of how the sport has somewhat come in from the margins in the country in recent years.
A large part of that has come on the back of the success of Catalans Dragons in the Betfred Super League, becoming the first overseas team to win the Challenge Cup in 2018 and then winning the League Leaders’ Shield and reaching the Grand Final for the first time in 2021.
The relegation of Toulouse Olympique back to the second tier of the British professional league system after just one year in Super League has dented those ambitions slightly, but that has not altered their long-term aim to establish themselves at the top level as well.
France’s domestic Elite One championship has benefitted from an influx of high-profile foreign players in recent seasons, too, with the latest big move seeing former NRL star Corey Norman link up with ex-Catalans man and former Australia international James Maloney at Lezignan after leaving Toulouse.
On the international front, Sydney Roosters’ NRL Grand Final-winning head coach Trent Robinson has linked up with the national team as coaching director, benefitting both Frayssinous and the squad with his experience along with growing his own links with the country after playing there for Toulouse and later coaching Catalans.
It would be massive for us [to reach the quarter-finals]. We have been working so hard the last few years, so I think we deserve this, but we need to work even harder.
France vice-captain Alrix Da Costa
Last Saturday’s match showed Les Chanticleers still have some catching up to do after their run without a win against England extended to 21 matches, yet hooker Alrix Da Costa – one of the Catalans contingent in the squad – believes they are making progress.
“International games are always different,” vice-captain Da Costa, one of those who plies his trade at club level for Catalans in Super League, said. “It’s massive and it’s some good experiences for all the players.
“You have some NRL players [to play against] so the level is higher and it’s good for us. We take everything and learn from that.”
France were finalists at the first World Cup 68 years ago when one of the greatest national teams the country has ever produced beat Australia and New Zealand, only to be edged out 16-12 by Great Britain in the final following a 13-13 draw between the two in the group stage.
They finished second in 1968, too, but in the modern era their best performances have been quarter-final appearances in 2000 and 2013 – something they could equal if they defeat Samoa in Warrington this weekend.
That, believes Da Costa, would be a just reward for the efforts France’s squad have put in and give them something to build on ahead of hosting the World Cup in 2025.
“It would be massive for us,” Da Costa said. “We have been working so hard the last few years, so I think we deserve this, but we need to work even harder.
“Against England, we needed to be a bit smarter and if we keep going like this then we’ve got a chance.”