France have chosen a baptism of fire for their World Cup warm-up game with a ‘friendly’ against the much-fancied power-packed Tongan team in Halifax on Saturday (ko 2.00pm).
Coach Laurent Frayssinous believes it is the perfect preparation for his young French squad as they prepare for some tough opening fixtures in Group A against England, Samoa and Greece.
He said: “We had always wanted to play Tonga in the warm-up because they play very similarly to Samoa, so we will know what to expect in the group game.
“We’ll know what we did well, what we did badly and how to improve, because Tonga and Samoa have some of the best players in the world.
“It would have been easier to play a lesser team and win by 20 points to gain some confidence, but you will not learn what you need to do against Samoa.
“It’s the perfect build-up for us, even though it will be tough.”
Frayssinous has again selected Catalans Dragons’ captain Ben Garcia to lead his young French squad, and he has included halfback Tony Gigot despite a loss of form this year at Toulouse Olympique, which saw him left him out of the final games of the season and eventually released by the club.
The 45-year-old France coach added: “Benjamin Garcia will be our captain; he has been massive for us, his influence on and off the pitch is so important to us.
“And it wasn’t a difficult decision to select Tony. He is one of the most talented players the French team has. We have some relatively young players in our squad, so we need experience, confidence and French flair from guys who can produce something from nothing and Tony is that type of player.
“The very basics for us are making sure that we are resilient enough in the early stages of a game to then give Tony a free rein when defences begin to tire.
“If you look at the Super League stats, he was one of the best in try-assists and kicking 40/20s, so he is a great player and a great guy. His team-mates want to play with him, so my decision was not difficult at all.”
Frayssinous explained the decision process that led to Huddersfield Giants’ scrum-half Théo Fages being left out of his World Cup squad.
He said: “I had lots of chats with Théo but you must remember last year he needed major surgery on his shoulder and he had no pre-season because of it.
“His shoulder was still sore when he started this season, he’s had a few knocks since then, torn his calf twice and in the last two months he has had two concussions.
“So we had a long conversation about what would be the best for the French team and for him too and what he needs now is to rest his body.
“There would be no point bringing Théo to the World Cup and him being tired or in pain, so he and I made that decision. The best thing for him and France is for him to relax and spend time with his family and recover fully for a full pre-season with his club.
“It’s best for his future and for the future of the French team too.”
Frayssinous is hoping that Catalans’ left-wing partnership of Fouad Yaha and Australian-born former Tongan international Samisoni Langi will pay off for Les Tricolores.
He added: “International rules are clear, if you play five years in a country you are eligible to play for that country so Samisoni qualifies through his time with Catalans.
“We had some good chats about why he wants to play for France and it was very clear that he was excited by the challenge.
“He has enjoyed his time living in France and he would like to pay it back. He knows we have a young squad and he can bring his experience to help the kids.
“He can play in a variety of positions but first and foremost I’d like to see him at centre because he’s got a good left side combo with his wing partner Fouad at the Dragons.
“They have scored a lot of tries with that combination and I hope they will do the same for France.”
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