St Helens aces ready for French challenge in Perpignan

Saints' double-winning season is reflected in boss Shaun Wane's 17-man squad for England 's international showdown with France in Perpignan on Saturday, under the captaincy of Wigan's John Bateman.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 10:46 am
Updated Friday, 22nd October 2021, 10:48 am
Alex Walmsley at England training. Picture: SWPix

Four of the five St Helens players who made the original 20-strong squad - Tommy Makinson, Jonny Lomax, Morgan Knowles and Alex Walmsley - are joined by new boys Jordan Abdull (Hull KR), Tom Davies (Catalans Dragons), Niall Evalds (Castleford Tigers), Kruise Leeming (Leeds Rhinos), Paul McShane (Castleford Tigers); Mikolaj Oledzki (both Leeds Rhinos); and Joe Philbin (Warrington Wolves)

Davies, Knowles, McShane and Oledzki all enjoyed their first England experience earlier this year in the mid-season match against the Combined Nations All Stars, while Philbin played in two Test matches on Great Britain’s Southern Hemisphere tour in 2019.

Half-back Abdull was short-listed for the 2021 Super League Man of Steel award won by the injured Sam Tomkins, Evalds was awarded the Lance Todd Trophy (man-of-the-match) for his outstanding performance at full-back during Castleford Tigers’ Challenge Cup Final defeat by St Helens in July and hooker Kruise Leeming is one of six of Wane’s 17 who were named in this year’s Super League Dream Team.

Bateman got the nod as captain ahead of St Helens stand-off Jonny Lomax as the replacement for Catalans Dragons full-back Sam Tomkins, who led England for the first time in the mid-season game against the Combined Nations All Stars but is sidelined with a knee injury.

“Jonny was in my thoughts but he’s a half and he’s a lot to think about,” Wane said. “He doesn’t want me adding more pressure on top of what I’ve already asked him to do.”

Shaun added: “There’s a very positive mood in the camp, a great camaraderie. The lads have trained well and we’re ready to go.

“We have some outstanding leaders in the team, including Bateman who’ll be captain. I’ve known John since he was a kid, I trust him, I know what he’s capable of and he’s strong under pressure. And we have other strong leaders too, like Lomax in the halves and Mike Cooper in the front row.

“This is also a chance for the players to put a marker down for the world cup. Some of them haven’t featured in an England set up before and I’m really excited for them. Representing your country is a dream and I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do in an England shirt.”

England team: Niall Evalds (Castleford Tigers), Tom Davies (Catalans Dragons), Reece Lyne (Wakefield Trinity), Zak Hardaker (Wigan Warriors), Tommy Makinson (St Helens), Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Jordan Abdull (Hull KR), Alex Walmsley (St Helens), Paul McShane (Castleford Tigers), Mike Cooper (Warrington Wolves), John Bateman (Wigan Warriors, Capt.), Liam Farrell (Wigan Warriors), Morgan Knowles (St Helens). Interchanges: Ben Currie (Warrington Wolves); Kruise Leeming (Leeds Rhinos); Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds Rhinos); Joe Philbin (Warrington Wolves)

France versus England will be shown live on BBC TV on Saturday – part of an international double-header also featuring the England Women’s team against their French counterparts. The women’s match will be shown live on BBC2 with a midday kick-off UK-time – the first England Women’s international to be broadcast on terrestrial TV – followed by live coverage of the men’s international on BBC1 at 2.30pm.

England last played France in October 2018, claiming a comfortable 44-6 victory at Leigh Sports Village.

Former Catalans Dragons half-back Tony Gigot will captain France against England.

The 30-year-old Gigot spent seven seasons with the Dragons and went on to play briefly for Toronto and Wakefield before joining Toulouse earlier this year and helping them win promotion to Super League.

The experienced Gigot was given the captain’s armband by new national coach Laurent Frayssinous in the absence of Ben Garcia, Theo Fages and Julian Bousquet, who are all injured.

Gigot’s half-back partner will be Arthur Mourgue, with Toulouse’s Mark Kheirallah preferred at full-back.

With Salford full-back Morgan Escare left out of Frayssinous’ initial 20-strong squad, it means his team is made up entirely of players from either Catalans or Toulouse.

Frayssinous, who will be taking charge of his first match, said: “The group is of very good quality despite the injuries to Theo Fages, Benjamin Garcia, Julian Bousquet, Alrix Da Costa, Gadwin Springer and Rhys Curran.

“It combines experience and youth with 10 players in this group who are likely to celebrate their first selection in blue.

“This Test match against England is the start of our new planning for the 2022 World Cup and I am confident that we can give the English a competitive game.”

France: M Kheirallah (Toulouse); I Bergal (Toulouse), M Laguerre (Catalans), M Jussaume (Toulouse), F Yaha (Catalans); A Mourgue (Catalans), T Gigot (Toulouse, capt); R Navarrete (Toulouse), A Marion (Toulouse), J Dezaria (Catalans), B Jullien (Catalans), P Seguier (Catalans), M Goudemand (Catalans).

Replacements: E Pelissier (Toulouse), M Puech (Toulouse), J Sangare (Toulouse), C Le Cam (Catalans).