England upset the world order in Wheelchair Rugby League last night in Apt by inflicting a first ever home defeat on France, the reigning world champions.
Mark Roughsedge’s team, including five players from Leeds Rhinos, one each from Halifax and Catalans Dragons, and two from the Argonauts club in Kent, had suffered a heartbreaking 38-34 defeat by France in the 2017 World Cup final.
But they overturned that result in the first of a two-Test trip to France, surging to a 31-13 lead with six tries from five different players, and withstanding a ferocious French fightback to win 31-25.
The teams now head south to Toulon for Sunday’s second Test, the end of a significant series for both in the planning for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup in England, when the Wheelchair competition will be played alongside the Men’s and Women’s World Cups.
“That was a tough Test Match in a hot, humid, hostile environment,” said Roughsedge, who has been involved in the England set-up for seven years having played a key role in establishing Kent as an unlikely stronghold for Wheelchair Rugby League.
“I was pleased with how the players executed the plan and stayed focused for long periods. There were parts of the game that were as good as I have seen. Everyone played their part, and our off-field unit was exceptional.
“We’ve been working towards this since selection in March, and before that since incorporation into the England Performance Unit in 2017, with an internal drive for change and improvement based on science, medicine and radical thinking about play.
“This is a first step, a significant one, on a long journey and we are just at the beginning. Sunday is sure to be a tough test and we will be working hard to re-hab the players and enabling them to be ready.”
Tries from Rhinos team-mates Nathan Collins and Tom Halliwell in response to an early France drop goal established a 10-1 lead before Seb Bechara, who is based in France with the Catalans, scored the first of his double.
Jack Brown, the captain from Halifax, scored a try and a drop goal just before half-time, then Collins, who had already landed two conversions, added two more drop goals after the break.
The two Argonauts then combined superbly for debutant Lewis King to score following an offload from Joe Coyd, and England had just enough to clinch their famous win.