In today’s edition of ‘Starting XVII’, we focus on France.
Les Tricolores will come up against England, Samoa and Greece in the group stage and will be hoping for a better run of results than in the last World Cup.
They didn’t manage one win in 2017, suffering comprehensive defeats to England, Australia and Lebanon, but may benefit from next year’s competition being closer to home.
Here’s how we think they’ll line up…
Fullback – Morgan Escaré
The Wigan fullback has struggled for game time at the DW in the past couple of years, with both Bevan French and Zak Hardaker in front of him in the pecking order. That doesn’t, however, mean he isn’t a quality player. With lightning acceleration and unpredictable agility, the 28-year-old has been terrorising defences for years and will be one of France’s biggest threats.
Wingers – Fouad Yaha and Hakim Miloudi
The Super League wide men are both try-scoring threats and useful yardage-makers. They each have bulky physiques and aren’t afraid to take the ball in at pace with Miloudi, in particular, being an awkward player to put to ground. Their respective try-scoring success will very much depend on the work done inside them.
Centres – Tony Gigot and Gavin Marguerite
Gigot’s best performances come at fullback but playing him as a centre means both him and Escaré can fit into the team. He could even play more a roaming role and not be restricted to one particular area of the field, which would allow him to express his creativity and skill freely. 23-year-old Marguerite is yet to make his Super League debut for Catalans but has amassed 72 appearances for Toulouse in the past five years, scoring 50 tries. He’s already gained admirers down under, with fans and commentators impressed by his athletic physique at last year’s World Cup 9s.
Halves – Théo Fages and Lucas Albert
Since moving to St Helens, Fages has developed into one of Super League’s top halfbacks. His ability to read the game and make decisive passes constantly create opportunities for his teammates, meaning he’ll be crucial in attack. Albert has shown similar attributes, albeit in short bursts, and will likely benefit from training and playing alongside James Maloney for Catalans.
Props – Julian Bousquet and Mickael Simon
One thing that’s certain about this front row pair is the size they provide. There is almost 34 stone in weight between them, while each stand over six foot tall. Bousquet and Simon will be tasked with challenging the English, French and Samoan forwards which admittedly is a tall order. They’ll both be willing to step up to the challenge, however, and won’t take a backward step when it comes to contact.
Hooker – Eloi Pelissier
Elusive London Bronco Pelissier is one of several options at hooker. With over 200 games-worth of experience in Super League, the Championship and the Elite One Championship, though, he’s probably the top candidate. Since breaking onto the scene with Catalans in 2011 he’s become renowned for his darting runs from dummy half and textbook tackle technique, playing with no fear against those much bigger and heavier than him.
Second Rowers – Benjamin Jullien and Benjamin Garcia
The hard-hitting second row partnership will aid those outside them and provide solid running options on the edges. Jullien has risen to prominence after initially starting his career with Avignon and North Wales, while Garcia’s career has seen him journey to the NRL with Penrith. Both are back in France with Catalans now, though, and pose a significant threat as wide-running forwards.
Loose Forward – Rémi Casty
Jason Baitieri’s well-publicised fallout with France RL means he’s unlikely to be selected. Baitieri walked out on the squad last October ahead of games in Australia, due to a “lack of professionalism”. His absence could see Les Tricolores veteran and captain Rémi Casty move to loose forward – a position he has become more used to at Catalans. Having him there adds further firepower down the middle, while his experience will be invaluable.
Subs – Alrix Da Costa, Romain Navarrete, Rhys Curran and Gadwin Springer
Having an extra hooker on the bench gives Pelissier a rest and ensures Aurelien Cologni’s side are consistently quick around the ruck. Da Costa has acted as backup to Michael McIlorum at Catalans for the past three years and has been in and around the national squad for a similar amount of tie. Props Naverrete and Springer are both big bodies with strong leg drive and will work well rotating with Bousquet and Simon. Finally, Australian-born Curran has been one of the standout players in the Championship in recent years, initially impressing for Toulouse with his deceptive pace and line running, and now plying his trade at London Broncos. Mickaël Goudemand and Antoni Maria will also be pushing for spots among the subs.