The Good: Well, the bulk of this squad are naturally from Catalan Dragons who just had their most successful season ever in Super League, reaching the play-offs with an exciting brand of football. There have even been French players succeeding at English clubs as well, from Julien Rinaldi at Harlequins to Eric Anselseme’s brief cameo during Leed’s run to the title.
The Bad: last time out, France were simply ripped apart by England. It’s odd, but in recent years France seem to have done much worse against England than against Australia or New Zealand, perhaps because they’ve played the southern hemisphere sides when they’ve had their foot off the accelerator. In this World Cup, everything will be at full throttle and France need to prove that they can keep up the pace. This means a lot of their non-Super League players are really going to have to step up a level.
The Ugly: French rugby is only only ugly when it fails in its attempts to be beautiful. Although when French rugby doesn’t work, it tends to really not work.
The Key: The Catalan players have been performing at a high level all season. Can the Elite League players step to that level as well? Will there be enough cohesion within this side for them to take the ball out wide and play an expansive game?
The Coach: John Monie is one of the most successful coaches in the history of the game, winning titles in Australia and in England with Wigan in two separate spells. After a minor break from top level coaching, he’s back on the international stage. He’s had a mixed level of success so far; beating Papua New Guinea, losing narrowly to New Zealand, and losing horribly to England at home. Can he get France performing consistently?
Star Man: It was thought that Catalan Dragons would have a massive hole to fill with Stacey Jones retiring last season, and Thomas Bosc proved to be a damn good poly-filler. Moving in from the wing position to stand-off he was the second-highest point-scorer in Super League, and perhaps more surprisingly he led the league in Try Assists. If Bosc can move up another level into international class, then France will really be rolling. Look for him to get his backs into the game and for his potent attacking kicking game.
Wild Card: Maxime Greseque has been a big name in French Rugby League for a while now, but he’s he’s not particularly well known to British fans. He’s generally spent his career playing in the French Elite League, and bar a stint at Featherstone and a very brief spell at Wakefield last year he’s not really played much club rugby at a higher level (due to being distracted by silly things like law degrees). Despite this, he’s generally been a success story in France’s one-off Tests against the major nations. If he’s able to perform on a consistent basis in this World Cup and work with Bosc, then France will definitely be more likely to be an exhilarating team to watch.
Young Gun: Dimitri Pelo has had travelled a bit in his life, from New Caledonia to Australia to Catalonia. He’s also had a pretty solid start to his Super League career, and has become a fixture on the Dragons wing. If he can become a regular in the France side then it will be a nice boon for the Tricolores.
In Conclusion… France will start as favourites in Group B, and rightly so. Their squad contains many talented players who are coming off the back of superb seasons. Their forwards should be up for some tasty confrontations with Fiji and Scotland, and their backs should hopefully play with the panache and gallic flair that we all demand. Hopefully they should be one of the most entertaining teams at this World Cup. Will that be enough to reach the semi-finals? Their opening game against Scotland in Canberra will go a long way to answering that question.
Squad: Eric Anselme (Leeds), Jean-Philippe Baile (Catalans Dragons) Jean-Christophe Borlin (Saint-Gaudens), Thomas Bosc (Catalans Dragons), Laurent Carrasco (Villeneuve), Remi Casty (Catalans Dragons), Olivier Elima (Catalans Dragons), Jamal Fakir (Catalans Dragons), Adel Fellous (Lezignan), Maxime Greseque (Pia), Matthieu Grifi (Catalans Dragons), Jerome Guisset (captain, Catalans Dragons), Christophe Moly (Carcassonne), Gregory Mounis (Catalans Dragons), Justin Murphy (Catalans Dragons), Dimitri Pelo (Catalans Dragons), Sebastien Planas (Toulouse), Sebastien Raguin (Catalans Dragons), Julien Rinaldi (Harlequins), Teddy Sadaoui (Carcassonne), Jared Taylor (Lezignan), John Wilson (Catalans Dragons), James Wynne (Lezignan).