When you think of an Irish/French clash your mind automatically thinks of a spring afternoon in Dublin with the nation’s union side facing up to a crucial six nations clash at the Aviva. That won’t be the case this Saturday as it will be the Union’s lesser known cousins, the Irish Rugby League team, also known as the Wolfhounds, who will face their French counterpart in the European Nation round robin tournament.
The tournament features Scotland, Ireland and France with each side playing each other once, the Wolfhounds opened their tournament with a 26-6 loss to Scotland.
The final game of the autumn series will pitch 5th in the World France against Ireland, who are 11th in the latest rankings and with Scotland following up what was only their 2nd ever win over the Irish, with a 46-10 loss to France, Ireland, currently bottom of the standings, will need a big win on Saturday to have any hope of winning the series.
History however is not on Ireland’s side and in five attempts Ireland have never beaten France, a 30-30 draw in 1997 the closest they came to a win, the last time the two sides met was in Avignon last October when the French ran out victorious by a 58-24 score line
The game represents another step in the development of the game here in Ireland and with World cup participation for the World cup in 2013 secured by virtue of their 2008 performances, the focus will now be on developing a pool of talent within these shores that will put it up to the Australian’s, English and 2008 runners up Fiji in Pool A.
That development began with the appointment of Mark Aston as head coach and with 9 uncapped players in the squad for the Scottish game the autumn series is proving a useful tool for the former Great Britain half back.
Since their first competitive game in 1995 Rugby League has made great strides in Ireland and the popularity of a game which has massive support across the water is on the increase, much of the growth of the game has down to the work done by Rugby League Ireland who have had to compete for space with the ever popular union.
The governing body is currently championing Limerick as a venue for the upcoming World cup and Saturday’s game, which will take place in the home of Munster rugby, Thomond Park, marks the first time that a Rugby League have taken place at the famous venue and will be another chance to showcase the city once more in a sporting light.
The game itself will not only represents the opportunity to push for the city as a World cup venue it will also give Ireland the chance to bounce back from what has been a poor autumn series so far.
The opening round defeat to Scotland was followed up by a 30-6 loss in a friendly to Wales.
Ireland record scorer and captain Liam Finn’s has scored 8 of Ireland’s 12 points in the two games played to date, with Sheffield Eagle winger Tim Bergin, who missed the Scottish match through suspension adding another four points with a try against the Welsh. Paul Handforth, Kyle Amor and James Haley who all missed the match against Wales will return to the squad for the French clash.
A high error count coupled with the inexperience of converted Tongan Lemeki Vunipulu, Elliott Cosgrove, Callum Casey, Aaron McCloskey, Kyle Amor, Sean Carmody and Ian Cross all novices at this level and winners of their maiden caps against Scotland cost the Wolfhounds dearly in their two games so far and Aston will at the least expect an improved performance against the French as the team gels and grows in confidence.
The game at Thomond Park will be homecoming of sorts for former Young Munster and Garryowen players Cross and McCloskey will return to Limerick after what has been a whirlwind 12 months for the duo which saw them plucked from Union, signing for St Helens and moving to French side Montpellier on loan.
Speaking ahead of the fixture Aston called for the public to get behind his side “They should be proud of this game. We are going to have people who are from Limerick like Ian Cross and Aaron McCloskey and it would be great for the first time in Thomond Park that people get behind us.”
He was also decidedly confident despite recent results “We’re capable of what people will probably say is a shock against France. They are a quality side so we are looking forward to that. We’re going to be a little bit better prepared as it’s a start process for us.”
The game kicks off on Saturday at 5pm, tickets are still available through www.ticketmaster.ie and costs €10 for an adult and €5 for a child representing excellent value in these recessionary times.
Ireland Squad to Face France:
Paddy Barcoe (Carlow RL), Elliott Cosgrove (Dewsbury Rams), Liam Finn, Joe Mulhern (Both Featherstone Rovers), Bob Beswick, Paul Handforth, James Haley (all Halifax RLFC), Greg McNally (Huddersfield Giants), Luke Ambler, Callum Casey (Leeds Rhinos), Joe Taylor (North Dublin Eagles), Paddy Boyle (Oxford RL), Tim Bergin, Pat Smith (Both Sheffield Eagles), Ian Cross, Aaron McCloskey (Both St Helens), Ged Corcoran (Toulouse), Kyle Amor (Wakefield Trinity Wildcats), Tyrone McCarthy (Warrington Wolves), Sean Carmody (York City Knights)
Watch highlights of Ireland’s game against Scotland