England's France Clash Comes At The Perfect Time Following World Cup Near-Miss

New coach Stuart Barrow takes charge for the first time on Saturday
08:00, 28 Apr 2023

England face France on Saturday as they return to the field for the first time since a heartbreaking Rugby League World Cup semi-final loss on home turf in November.

As a statement, this applies to both the men’s and the women’s team ahead of the double-header at the Halliwell Jones Stadium, but Stuart Barrow’s side appear to be carrying a new momentum into the fixture which cannot be said of their male counterparts.

The last-four loss to New Zealand under Craig Richards five months back stung England’s women. They might not have been denied with a last-gasp drop goal as happened to Shaun Wane’s side against Samoa, but for the effort and endeavour on display in York the home side unquestionably deserved more than a 20-6 defeat.

It marked progress from the 52-4 battering by the same Kiwi Ferns at the semi-final stage five years earlier but was far from the fairytale final clash with Australia’s Jillaroos that many in the camp were hoping to bid farewell with. Richards said a tearful goodbye in his post-match press conference, but rather than that night becoming the catalyst for a complete overhaul the England setup has continued to gather momentum following the appointment of Barrow as the new head coach.


Barrow has made the decision to hand the captaincy over to Jodie Cunningham, a born leader who has already been a magnificent ambassador for the sport whether representing England, St Helens or women’s rugby league in general. And while former skipper Emily Rudge is unlikely to miss a beat on the field despite losing the armband to her close friend, there is also a buoyancy in the group provided by news of departures down under.

Fran Goldthorp is likely to become the latest England star from that World Cup run to announce a move to the fully-professional NRLW in Australia in the coming days. That follows on from the news that York Valkyrie loose forward Hollie-Mae Dodd is heading to Canberra Raiders and Leeds Rhinos half-back Georgia Roche has been snapped up by Newcastle Knights ahead of the 2023 season.


But rather than that be a concern for the domestic game, it is widely accepted that these moves can only be good for the national team and therefore club structures by extension. The increased intensity being experienced by a number of the England side’s biggest stars will surely bring a greater competitiveness to Barrow’s squad, and come the next big encounter with a New Zealand or Australia the gap in professional standards will hopefully be less evident.

Another big tick next to Saturday’s opening game which doesn’t apply to the men’s clash comes in the identity of much of the squad. Whereas Shaun Wane has struggled to bring together anything approaching a recognised line-up, Barrow’s selection includes 15 of the players who took the nation to the final four at the World Cup. The clash with France also comes at a point in the season when an early rhythm is truly beginning to develop.

While the men’s Super League has already seen 10 weeks of action, we are less than two rounds into the women’s version and last week’s opening Challenge Cup group fixtures have ensured that most players have had just the right amount of action to leave them primed for international action.


Former England prop Danika Priim couldn’t have put it better when speaking to The Sportsman earlier this week, telling us: “For the men it is a bit of a non-event, a bit pointless, but in terms of the women’s team it is totally different because of the momentum building… It gives the girls a great chance to have a run out.”

And Barrow has an early look at his rejuvenated troops, with Tara-Jane Stanley’s early form for York suggesting a reversion back to her natural full-back slot when she pulls on the England shirt once more this weekend. If she can have half the impact with the national team that she has already had on the Valkyrie’s season, then the new coach should see his side get off to a flyer.

At a crucial time for rugby league, the women’s game is thriving. And at a moment when the England national side needs a response to their World Cup heartache, this France test could barely have been better timed.


*18+ | BeGambleAware

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