France and Wales have named 19-man squads for their European Championship clash at the Stade Albert Domec, in Carcassone tomorrow (Saturday, kick off 6pm CET), which doubles as a qualifier for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England.
The French have been strengthened by the arrival of Wigan duo, Morgan Escare and Romain Navarette, after the pair became the first from that nation to play in, and win, a Super League Grand Final.
“The first game is the most important,” said French skipper, Paris-born Jason Baitieri. “This one will decide our chances of qualification, and we will have to be at our best because the opposition are the defending European champions.
We are wary of the finishing threat of London’s Rhys Williams and I have always been an admirer of Gil Dudson, who has just signed to Salford. He was often injured this year at Widnes but he is strong and has the soul of a leader. I prefer to focus on our own strengths, however. Physically we are ready for the fight, and compared to the warm up match against England, we are better prepared and a much more united squad for being together.”
Stan Robin, who has been used as a full back, centre and winger, is expected to play in his preferred position in the halves. “My physical condition is perfect,” he said. “The task ahead is difficult, but as with the other players in the squad from Toulouse, we are used to confronting those from the Championship who make up the backbone of the Welsh side and so we will not be disoriented.”
The Welsh flew out from Manchester airport this morning in good spirits, according to their head coach John Kear.
“We’ve had an excellent week of training,” commented Kear. “We’re all looking forward to getting started. We’ve got some new faces, in a squad full of players who have come through the Welsh systems and there is some real passion amongst them to wear the shirt.
“All of the players have trained really well this week and are raring to go. We’re expecting a tough match over in France as they’ve got plenty of quality in their side, but we’re hoping to put in a good display and start the tournament with a positive result.”
The match will be streamed on the BBC red button.
FRANCE 19-MAN SQUAD : Bastien Escamilla (Carcassonne XIII), Lucas Albert, Jason Baitieri, Lambert Belmas, Alrix da Costa, Tony Gigot, Mickael Goudemand, Benjamin Jullien (Catalans Dragons), Hakim Miloudi (Hull FC), Thibaud Margalet (St Esteve/XIII Catalan), Theo Fages (St Helens), Bastien Ader, William Barthau, Rhys Curran, Paul Marcon, Stanislas Robin, (Toulouse Olympique), Morgan Escare, Romain Navarette (Wigan Warrioirs), Valentin Yesa (XIII Limouxin).
WALES 19-MAN SQUAD : Dalton Grant (Bradford Bulls), Chris Vitalini (Coventry Bears), Josh Ralph (Easts Tigers), Chester Butler, Connor Davies, Curtis Davies, Dan Fleming, Sion Jones (Halifax), Ben Evans, Elliot Kear, Rhys Williams (London Broncos), Elliot Jenkins (Rochdale Hornets), Gavin Bennion (Salford Red Devils), Ben Morris (St Helens), Rhodri Lloyd (Swinton Lions), Courtney Davies (unattached), James Olds (Wests Panthers. Brisbane), Morgan Evans, Steve Parry (West Wales Raiders).