European Championship preview: France

The International Rugby League programme kicks off this weekend, and at, we’re supremely excited about internationals taking centre stage once again. But as well as the Four Nations – which actually begins next weekend – there’s the small matter of a European Championship tournament with potentially huge ramifications for the winner.

It was announced yesterday that should Ireland or Wales win the four-team tournament, they will actually qualify automatically for the World Cup in 2017 – Scotland and France are already seeded for the event.

And we’re going to be looking ahead to the event by previewing each nation this week; continuing our buildup with a look at the French!

The Key PlayerMorgan-Escare-Catalan
There can be little doubting France’s key man; arguably the best full-back in Super League this season, Catalan Dragons’ Morgan Escare. The youngster has been in scintillating form for the Dragons all year, and played a key role in getting them to within 80 minutes of a maiden Grand Final appearance this season. However, he is not in the squad for their first game this weekend, and French captain Jason Baitieri told League Express this week the camp are concentrating on the players who are fit, not Escare.

“Morgan is being rested, and at the moment we are concentrating on the players who are there. Right now Morgan is not there,” said Baitieri. However, if he does return in time for next week, the French’s chances will surely improve massively.

The Coach
Richard Agar was in charge of the French for last year’s World Cup, guiding them to a quarter-final spot which ensured they will be automatically seeded for the 2017 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. The former Wakefield coach did a fantastic job with the French national side last year, and with a squad that possesses arguably more Super League experience than any other, Agar’s men will be very much the favourites over the next month.

The Squad
Morgan Escaré (Catalans); Mathias Pala (St Estève-XIII Catalan), Damien Cardace (Catalans), Vincent Duport (Catalans; vice-captain), Frédéric Vaccari (Palau); Théo Fages (Salford), Rémy Marginet (Palau); Julian Bousquet (Catalans), Eloi Pélissier (Catalans), Mickaël Simon (St Estève-XIII Catalan), Kevin Larroyer (Hull KR), Benjamin Garcia (Catalans), Jason Baitieri (Catalans; captain); Clément Soubeyras (Carcassonne), Jean-Philippe Baile (St Estève-XIII Catalan), Aurélien Decarnin (Villeneuve), Anthony Carrère (Lézignan), William Barthau (St Estève-XIII Catalan), Jamal Fakir (Lézignan), John Boudebza (Lézignan), Antoni Maria (Catalans), Benjamin Jullien (Avignon), Thibaud Margalet (St Estève-XIII Catalan).

Their Chances
Make no mistake about it; even with Danny Brough in Scotland’s ranks, the French have to be regarded as the hot tip to become European Championship winners over the next three weeks. Names like Escare, Pélissier and Duport make for impressive viewing in a France squad that boasts both experience and talent. It will take a strong side to deny the French, that is for sure.