One of the original powerhouses of the sport has gone without success in the international arena for decades, seeing them slip outside the top five in world rankings as a result.
Following on from two world cups where they failed to meet their own expectations, Les Chanticleers arrive down under without being given much chance to change that trend.
The French have a rich history of rugby league and are one of only three nations that have appeared at every World Cup. The RLWC itself was an initiative developed by the French after Paul Barriere, the president of French rugby league at the time, pioneered the concept and gained full support from the international administration to host the event in 1954. Around 30,000 fans crammed into the Parc Des Princes that year to witness Great Britain claim the title of inaugural world champions after defeating France 16-12 in the final.
Since then France has only reached the final on one more occasion, which was 1968, and rugby league went through some dark periods that have been well documented by the game’s enthusiasts. The French have never returned to the Tier 1 level of international rugby league; however, they arrive on Australian shores with an aim to return to the glory days of the past.
Likely team line-up
1. Mark Kheirallah
2. Fouad Yaha
3. Damien Cardace
4. Bastien Ader
5. Olivier Arnoud
6. Theo Fages (c)
7. William Barthau
8. Julian Bousquet
9. Eloi Pelissier
10. Lambert Belmas
11. Antoni Maria
12. Benjamin Garcia
13. Jason Baiteri
14. Lucas Albert
15. Benjamin Jullien
16. Romain Navarette
17. Clement Boyer
Squad Members: Ilias Bergal, Remy Marginet, Maxime Herold, Mikael Rouch, John Boudebza, Nabil Djalout, Thibaut Margalet.
There are twelve players from the Catalans Dragons that make up a fairly inexperienced squad. Nine players will be making their international debut if they happen to gain a start during the tournament. Games against Australia and England will certainly be the highest quality of rugby league the majority of this team have ever been exposed to.
Head coach Aurelien Cologni has enlisted the assistance of Andrew Johns in camp this past week with the key focus placed on the match against Lebanon, highlighting the importance of that game’s result.
The superstar within this line-up is without doubt Theo Fages. The 23-year-old now carries the nation on his young shoulders, having been anointed the captain of the team. The skills and talent of Fages were identified very early in his career. He was picked up by talent scouts at the age of 16 and signed by Salford. Starting halfback for one of England’s powerhouse clubs in St. Helens has seen Theo hone his skills and grow into a leader. He was selected in the squad, but he played very little part at the 2013 World Cup as a 19-year-old on debut. This will be his first chance to showcase his talent to the wider rugby league world.
Fixtures and opponents
Lebanon at Canberra Stadium, Canberra – Sunday, 29 October at 3pm AEDT
Australia at Canberra Stadium, Canberra – Friday, 3 November, at 8pm AEDT
England at Perth Rectangular Stadium, Perth – Sunday, 12 November, at 9pm AEDT
The Chanticleers have won just a single game in each of their last two World Cup campaigns and the forecast for 2017 doesn’t look much different. With clashes against heavyweights in Australia and England, the key match for France will be against Lebanon. The opening fixture will dictate whether the French will progress to the quarter-finals or bow out in the pool stages of this tournament.
RLWC 2017 Prospects
As a rugby league fan I’m certainly hoping to see France bring an unexpected style of play similar to the French flair that was on show during their golden era. France are one of the unknowns in this World Cup – they’ve got a young superstar halfback leading an inexperienced team made up of players who play locally in France. A win against Lebanon will assure them of a spot in the quarter-finals, which is the furthest I believe they can progress in this tournament.