France joins Serbia Rugby League in celebrating its historic birthday

Serbia is facing France in a Test match for the first time this afternoon, at the NC Makis Stadium in Belgrade (kick off 3pm CET). The match marks both the 65th anniversary of Rugby League’s first being played in the former Yugoslavia when two sides from France launched the sport, and the centenary commemorations of the end of the First World War, when French and Serbian forces liberated the country.

The two nations will play for the Marshal Franchet d’Espèrey Cup.

For the hosts, the historic clash is part of their preparations for the forthcoming European Championship B matches with Russia and Spain, which also double as qualifiers for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England.

On Wednesday, in the build up, their top selection defeated Wales Dragonhearts 22-20, while yesterday a side made up of domestic players only went down to the same opponents 50-4.

“It is a great privilege to have a chance to play France, and an even greater honour to mark the centenary of the liberation of Serbia in the First World War,” commented Serbia’s head coach, Brett Davidson. “Coming from Australia,  as I do, this has the same feeling as the Anzacs we play back home. A very special moment in history will be celebrated and we are all very proud to play a part.

“We are in the final stages of preparations for the World Cup games at present, and having this chance to play such quality opposition is invaluable to us in assessing both where we are, and where we can improve. We are looking forward to a tough match; the bond amongst the players has been amazing and we are in a great place.”

The French 19-man squad arrived from Montpellier in a charted plane usually used by the Catalans Dragons, and then trained at the stadium yesterday evening.  Albi RL hooker William Ousty, who was due to make his debut was forced to pull out due to a damaged disc in his back. He is replaced by Carcassonne XIII’s Mathieu Khedimi in a squad that includes four players from Toulouse Olympique, along with Batley’s Louis Jouffret.

Serbia have named a 20-man squad for the game including Vladica Nikolic who plays his club rugby for Villeneuve Leopards.

The game is being live-streamed by the French Federation on their website at: