England strike back at wheelchair rivals France – on and off the pitch

ENGLAND have hit back at their great wheelchair rivals France – on and off the pitch.

On it, the world champions triumphed 34-18 in Marseille on Saturday to gain revenge for their defeat in Leeds three weeks earlier to recapture the Fassolette-Kielty Trophy.

And ahead of that clash, they responded to recent comments made by the French about the future of the wheelchair game in relation to the classification of players.

In the latest issue of Rugby League World magazine, France explained their policy of having a permanent wheelchair user on their team at all times (the only classification rules currently are that three disabled players must be on the pitch).

Their head coach Sylvain Crismanovich said: “We strictly maintain the French view that wheelchair permanent users should have the opportunity to reach the national team.”

France have been critical of England for often failing to include any permanent wheelchair users in their team.

There were none when England won the World Cup Final last year, nor when the sides recently played in Leeds, although there was on Saturday as Wayne Boardman started the match.

Ahead of that game, the RFL’s Wheelchair Rugby League Strategy Group released a statement about the issue.

“Wheelchair Rugby League is totally inclusive, enshrining its original principles of offering the opportunity to play for everyone. No one is prevented from giving the sport a try and seeing how far they can reach,” they said.

“Classifying players with numbers or labels like ‘permanent wheelchair user’ (PWU) reinforces… discrimination. The premise that all PWUs are somehow equal is not valid either.

“The national coaching staff will continue to include players who achieve the relevant standards, make the appropriate sacrifices and earn the right to wear the jersey, and will select a squad that gives maximum flexibility within the allotted permutations.”

England won a brutal international encounter thanks to two tries from Nathan Collins, plus scores from Lewis King, Rob Hawkins and Jack Brown.

Their coach Tom Coyd said: “Our performance was the perfect way to respond to a really tough lesson against France back at home in Leeds. 

“This is only the second time France have been beaten on home soil – the first time also against England in 2019 – so we’ve made history.

“The players are adapting to the external pressure that grows each time that we take to the field – we have such a presence and there’s expectations put on us by things both on and off the pitch. 

“I think the players learnt a lot from the gravity of the event when we played at Leeds and we dealt with the occasion much better today.

“Throughout the game we stayed connected, everyone backed each other, and we didn’t respond to any of the opposition’s aggressions.”

*Read more about this topic in the current issue of Rugby League World, available now at totalrl.com/shop