Garcia looking ahead

While Covid-19 currently has the attention of everyone involved in Rugby League, it is RLWC2021 that is on the mind of French international forward Ben Garcia.
The 26-year-old Catalans Dragons star is being tipped as a future captain for Les Chanticleers and his barnstorming performances in Super League so far this season bode well for his national team’s prospects in next year’s World Cup.
The Dragons’ four-match stop-start campaign, hit by bad weather at Wakefield, fixture clashes at St Helens and now a global pandemic, has frustrated Garcia and his team-mates and only long-term thinking is helping to maintain positivity in the playing group.
“It is a real disaster at the moment,” Garcia told League Express.
“But all we can do is continue to train and be ready for our next game, whenever that may be.”
The immediate horizon for Garcia and the Dragons is an away fixture at Wigan Warriors on Sunday afternoon (subject to RFL and government approval) but next October’s international tournament is also on Garcia’s mind.
A recent bust-up between his team-mate Jason Baitieri and the President of the French Federation, Marc Palanques, highlighted some divisions between players and officials at national level. But Garcia is hoping that the country will come together for the World Cup.
He added, “The international game is really important if Rugby League is to grow in France. And if we are to be successful everyone needs to be on the same page.
“At the moment there seems to be two clear levels in the game – two professional teams here in the Dragons and Toulouse – and the rest of the game is either semi-professional or amateur.
“It is difficult to put those things together and create a winning formula against the likes of Australia and England, where the game is much stronger, so we have to be realistic about our ambitions.
“But we will go into the next World Cup full of confidence and ambition with pride in the shirt as we always do. The progress that is being made with the pro clubs will help, with many players now having big-match experience. I’ve already played in two World Cups and I can’t wait to take part again next year.”
Garcia has taken over Greg Bird’s number 13 shirt at Stade Gilbert Brutus following the Aussie veteran’s switch from playing duties to a coaching role and he is delighted with his new role.
“Steve told me last year that I would be playing at lock this season and I’m really enjoying the way I can play with a lot of freedom. I’ve been getting plenty of game-time, all in the middle of the pitch and I’m very happy.
“I played lock when I was younger and it’s my favourite position. But I’m happy to play second row, or anywhere for the team. I just want to be on the field.
“It’s a real shame that the season has been so disrupted so far for the team. It’s been difficult to assess our real potential because we’ve only had four games. We’ve had three wins but it’s a long season and injuries and form can take their toll. We’ve started strongly but I’ve been playing this game long enough to know that all that can change at any minute.
“This year’s squad has settled in very quickly, we had a long pre-season together then Israel (Folau) joined us when Brayden Wiliame left. But it’s a happy squad, there is a really good mood at training and I think people can see that we are playing for each other.
“I look around among my team-mates and there’s an awful lot of experience there. We’ve got players who have positive energy but know how to control it and remain calm when we need to.
“We can see the difference straight away, like during the second half against Hull where we fought back to take the two points. That might not have happened in the past but this squad has a winning mentality.
“With only one pre-season game (a win against Toulouse in Carcassonne) we were caught a little cold in our first game (home defeat to Huddersfield Giants) and then we didn’t play because of the weather at Wakefield and the St Helens game was postponed because of the World Club Challenge.
“It’s almost like the season has just started for us now and I can feel the excitement in the squad.”
Garcia said the professional clubs do feel an extra responsibility to help source and promote new French talent in Rugby League, adding: “Catalans and Toulouse are doing a really good job at the moment trying to develop young French players like Paul Seguier who was in our group against Hull last week. It is essential that we continue to bring players to the top.
“If we are ever to be a real force at international level in the game, it is players like this who will be the key.”