Europe needs a proper rep round

07 July 2019 - Written by Zack Wilson

The recent round of international games Down Under was, by and large, a very positive development for rugby league

New Zealand got their revenge on Tonga, Samoa battered Papua New Guinea and Fiji hammered Lebanon.

The social media channels were alive with footage of pre-match war dances of various kinds, as well as stunning action from the games.

The women’s game was also an integral part of the whole thing, opening up new audiences.

There’s still too much rubbish about eligibility and players continue to swap countries far too easily for a serious international sport, though.

It is also somewhat troubling that despite six countries being involved, these games were only played in two countries.

The issue of players swapping countries also needs to be looked at again, and we need hard and fast rules that apply for at least five years.

With the rules the way there, with Tier One countries still being able to raid other countries’ squads for players whenever they want them, it is almost impossible for some countries to plan ahead, given that they’re never quite sure what players will be available to them.

New Zealand have also disproportionately suffered from player defections to other nations, which has affected their ability to plan ahead.

Planning ahead is a vital part of any international sport, if we want teams to be as a strong and as well-prepared as possible.

But, those issues aside, it does look as if international rugby league is starting, stutteringly and uncertainly at times, to be moving forward in the southern hemisphere, the Lebanon situation aside.

It is hard to see a viable future for Lebanon as things stand, as there does not appear to much continuity between the Australian side of things and the Lebanese authorities.

It highlights the issues of relying on Australian immigrant communities for players, and is something that will continue to affect the game for years to come.

But, despite those negatives, things are progressing much more positively than they are in Europe, particularly Britain and Ireland, when it comes to the international game.

More work needs to be done around organising viable fixtures many years in advance, rather than the ad hoc type of arrangements that currently abound.

There is certainly a strong argument that an England team should be playing France in France every year.

It does not need to be a full-strength England side. Garry Schofield related on the Forty20 podcast recently that during his career an Under-24s national side was in operation.

The England team that travels to France each year in midseason could have a similar selection policy, making it a team where younger players can stake a claim.

A future England captain could be prepared for the role on a trip like this.

Wales, Ireland and Scotland also need games in order to keep their national sides in some kind of media spotlight.

These teams certainly don’t play each other enough at the moment. More games against each other outside the format of the European Championship would help them develop the squads, cultures and momentum needed to drive forward as international sides.

With Great Britain and Ireland tour places at stake this year, it seems strange that no kind of internationals between the Home Nations were planned.

If players were told that in order to be considered for Great Britain they would need to be available for mid-season Home Nations internationals it would certainly be interesting to see how many would put their hands up to play.

It might also give a chance to one or two outsiders to stake a claim for a GB spot.

International rugby league is still an afterthought, largely, despite the recent progress in the southern hemisphere.

The RLIF still needs to do much more work to promote the international game in the northern hemisphere.

Nigel Wood still has much work to do, and he should not be allowed to forget it.

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