French captain Benjamin Garcia has revealed that his team are targeting a quarter-final berth at this year’s IRL World Cup, despite being guaranteed automatic qualification for 2025 as the host nation.
France, the driving force behind the establishment of the World Cup in 1954 and once a powerhouse of the international game, finished third in their pool at the 2008, 2013 and 2017 tournaments.
However, with Toulouse joining Catalans in this season’s Super League and France hosting the 2025 World Cup, the game is again on the rise.
After hitting rock-bottom in 2019 with a 62-4 loss to a Junior Kangaroos team that included Kalyn Ponga, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, David Fifita and Victor Radley, France has undergone dramatic changes.
Luc Lacoste has since been elected FFRXIII president, with Laurent Frayssinous taking over as coach and Sydney Roosters mentor Trent Robinson appointed director of rugby.
Under their charge, the likes of Arthur Mourgue, Cesar Rougé, Matthieu Laguerre, Justin Sangaré and other young talent have been blooded against England last November and Wales in June as France prepare for an improved World Cup showing.
🇫🇷 Quel match ! Nos Français s'imposent à Salon-de-Provence sur le score de 50 à 10 ! 💪 pic.twitter.com/GGM5y9FGmf
— Fédération Française de Rugby XIII (@FFRXIII) July 22, 2022
As the next host nation, France are guaranteed one of the 16 berths at the 2025 World Cup, along with the quarter-finalists in England at the end of the year, but Garcia said his team wanted to qualify on merit.
“We inherited a difficult group with England, Samoa and Greece, to a lesser extent,” Garcia told the FFR13 website. “Our goal will be to beat the Greeks and then achieve a win against one of the two big nations.
“[Qualifying] for a quarter-final would be great for everyone.”
Garcia, who is set to return for Catalans from surgery after being rushed to hospital with his ear barely attached following a tackle during the Super League Magic Round, said the French players had taken confidence from last month’s 34-10 defeat of Wales.
“In effort and spirit we were at the top and we only [conceded] two tries that we could have avoided,” he said.
“There is still work to do but we are a young team who are eager to learn.”
The 29-year-old forward, who had stints with the Brisbane Broncos in 2013 and Penrith Panthers in 2016, said he had enjoyed the responsibility of captaining France for the first time in the Test at Albi.
🏉 Hear from international stars about RLWC2021
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— Rugby League World Cup 2021 (@RLWC2021) July 22, 2022
“I have to lead by example on and off the field,” he said. “Then I am this link between the coach and the players which is very important. Laurent Frayssinous can count on me to convey messages and vice-versa.”
Meanwhile, France have suffered a blow with Garcia’s Dragons team-mate Julian Bousquet ruled out for the remainder of the Super League season due to a knee injury.
Bousquet was named in a train-on squad earlier this year and played in the Test against Wales but Catalans officials said he required surgery for a ruptured medial ligament and would not play again this season.