England deliver on the biggest stage to defeat France and become world champions

Hosts England performed exceptionally to defeat the two-time reigning wheelchair world champions France to win the Rugby League World Cup in a classic final.

England were led to victory by their captain Tom Halliwell. The skipper scored a try either side of half time, including the winner in the 78th minute to ensure England secured World Cup victory on home soil.

They had to do it the hard way having been behind at the half 14-12 but the hosts weren’t to be denied in front of a record crowd at Manchester Central. 

They had always aimed and targeted this World Cup, the first to run at the same time as both the men and womens, but faced top seed and defending champions France whom they lost to in the 2017 final.

Both sides were seemingly destined to meet having both won their groups with ease and France progressing to the final having put 84 past a battling Australia, whereas England recorded over 120 points for the second game in a row as they beat Wales 125-22.

An early penalty for France presented them with the opportunity to go ahead and veteran kicker Lionel Alazard obliged, putting his side 2-0 up. It could have been easy to assume at this point that another high scoring encounter was coming but the first half was instead very attritional and predominantly played in the middle of the park as opposed to in either teams 20. 

A knock on gave France their possession in England territory just prior to the 10 minute mark but instead of two points Alazard went over for 4 before converting his own try to push to an 8-0 lead.

That score had come against the run of play and at times England failed to capitalise on territory but they were gifted another set just outside the 10 metre line which captain Tom Halliwell seized as he steamed in under the posts for 4 and an easy conversion. 

The man on everybody’s lips, Jack Brown, was introduced at the 25 minute mark but it was France who scored next with the impressive Nicolas Clausells gaining big metres and occupying multiple men leaving Mostefa Abassi free to score his 17th try of the tournament in the corner.

Brown did make good on the immense expectation and went over after a smart offload from Nathan Collins to draw England within 2 just before half-time.

Had it not been for some dubious calls England could well have gone in ahead but they certainly finished the half with the momentum and that showed on the restart with England gaining territory and a new set of 6 inside the French 10 very early.

From that a well drilled passing play saw England go from right to left and allowed Lewis King to score in the corner only 2 minutes into the 2nd half. 

Sustained pressure came from England with the French failing to complete their sets and eventually that pressure paid dividends with Brown going over for the second time in the 53rd minute after his kick chase had forced a knock on and penalty on the 10 yard line.

That two score lead was short lived and France were back within 2 as on their first venture into England’s 20 the 59 year old Gilles Clausells scored after brilliant work from his nephew Nicolas. 

Both sides exchanged penalty kicks from distance leaving the game 24-22 before Clausells (Nicolas) extended his record to five kicks from five to draw level.

An uncharacteristic Clausell’s missed kick at the 75 minute mark left the game in a state of stalemate but with both sides seeing tensions boil over the game was on a knife edge.

In the end it was a moment of brilliance that saw the stalemate broken with captain Halliwell throwing a brilliant dummy to score his second of the match in the 78th minute. Collins missed the kick to keep the tension high but the French effectively fouled themselves out of the game as England ran down the clock across multiple sets to prevail 28-24.

Captain Halliwell was deservedly awarded man of the match and in a game that saw world record attendance at a wheelchair rugby league match of 4,526, it’s safe to assume this is a game that will continue to grow, particularly when this is the level of competition when the elite face off against each other.

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