England coach Stuart Barrow on squad selection, France test and looking towards Ashes

ENGLAND head coach Stuart Barrow knows that Saturday’s trip to France can offer some perfect preparation for what is to come over the next couple of years.

While no international has yet been confirmed for later this year, Barrow and England already know they face Australia in the Ashes in November 2025, before another trip to the southern hemisphere twelve months later for the World Cup.

Not only will the squad get to experience life in camp for the first time under Barrow, they will also get a taste of some of the conditions they are likely to face down under.

“This will be my first time as coach being away on a camp with the girls and we’re all really looking forward to it,” said Barrow, who took charge of the national team following Craig Richards’ departure at the end of the 2022 World Cup.

“We’ll meet up and train at Warrington on Thursday night, fly out on Friday, have a captain’s run at the ground that night and then play on Saturday. 

“That gives us three or four quality days together to bond as a group in that camp environment. As coaching staff it will also give us a chance to look at a few people, how they behave etc. ahead of the Ashes next year.

“We’ve all got good relationships within the squad anyway, but we’ll be with each other 24/7 so we’ll all get to know each other a lot better. 

“There are a few new faces in the squad so they’ll get a good idea of what the environment is like to be away in camp and that takes away some of the unknowns ahead of doing it again next year.

“Another challenge we’ll face on Saturday is the heat. It will be really hot in Toulouse and we’re actually really pleased it looks set to be a warm and humid day because we’ll be expecting more of the same in Australia next year.”

Barrow oversaw the action as both the England and England Knights squads came together and played an adapted Yorkshire v Lancashire training game at Dewsbury on Saturday, and he admits the exercise left him with more questions than answers ahead of picking his squad for the trip.

A number of players were already missing through injury, while Leah Burke (hand) and Amy Hardcastle (knee) were among those who picked up knocks during the game. Burke has not made the 19-player squad for the trip but Hardcastle is included and will likely be regularly assessed this week.

Despite it perhaps coming at a cost with more injury concerns, Barrow knows it was still a useful exercise.

“This has probably been the most open selection we’ve ever had,” admitted Barrow.

“You could probably make up one starting 13 with the players we have unavailable and one that will play France. That is great because we wouldn’t have been in this situation two years ago. 

“But the fact that we have now got so many quality players ready to step in for the quality players we’re missing is great and bodes well for the future.

“The senior players know they have serious challenges coming from behind now but they still want to keep their shirts, so they keep getting better and the younger players coming through benefit even more from that.

“We had already pre-discussed selection for France, but we knew the Origin hit out would be a big part in the final decisions, which it proved to be. It was tough and physical and it tested the girls. Some of them really put their hands up for selection.

“We knew it was going to be a risk and reward exercise coming a week before the Test, but we wanted to try and replicate the World Cup where games come thick and fast. But I think we took more reward than risk out of it.

“As coaching staff we got everything we wanted out of the Origin. We asked some questions of the players and they went out and delivered on them. It was fast and intense, and that is what international rugby is like.”

Looking towards France, who on Saturday qualified for the 2026 World Cup with a 58-0 win over Serbia in Belgrade, Barrow is also aware that the game itself won’t be an easy ride.

The hosts have something of a new look compared to when the sides last met last April, when England ran out 64-0 winners at Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium.

“They have made a lot of changes from last year and we’ve seen their recent games against Greece which we will talk about in camp,” added Barrow.

“I think there were around eight new faces in the squad for that game and they are playing in a different way than they did last year.

“As always they’ll be a physical battle, and one we have to be prepared for. But I am excited by it and the girls should be too.”

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