Rhinos shine in England Wheelchair international

Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com - 10/11/2021 - Rugby League - Wheelchair International - England v France - Medway Park Sports Centre, Gillingham, England - Tom Halliwell (C) of England fights for possession with Lionel Alazard and Arno Vargas of France

England captain Tom Halliwell praised an impressive performance by France in the first of two Wheelchair Rugby League Internationals in Kent this week – but backed his team to bounce straight back when the teams meet again at the same venue on Saturday.

Halliwell’s team, who had romped to a comfortable victory against Wales in their only previous international since 2019, were stunned by the pace, power and skill of the 2017 World Cup champions, for whom the brothers Gilles and Nicolas Clausells were outstanding.

But the Leeds Rhinos forward saw enough in the way England surged back in a thrilling second half period to draw confidence ahead of the weekend rematch.

“That was a tough match, as you’d expect against the world champions,” said Halliwell.

“It was definitely a level up from anything we’ve played since Covid, and that’s exactly what we wanted.

“We didn’t do ourselves any favours with some of the mistakes we made and penalties we gave away – and that’s what we need to improve for Saturday.

“But we played some decent stuff as well and hopefully it was a decent game for the people watching in Medway and on the BBC. Every time we play it seems to be a bigger occasion, and it’s a great thing to be part of.”

After a spectacular pre-match light show to greet the entry of the teams, there were no points for 17 minutes with some brutal defence.

France broke the deadlock with a penalty from Nicolas Clausells, and he also played a key part in a try for his brother five minutes later, then converted it to extend the lead to 8-0.

England hit back with a superb try for the Halifax Panthers youngster Rob Hawkins, converted by Joe Coyd from the local Argonauts club.

But France seized control in the late stages of the first half with Gilles Clausells scoring his second try and Jeremy Bourson adding another, to extend their lead to 22-6.

Halliwell set up a try for his Leeds team-mate James Simpson to give England fresh hope early in the second half, but France stretched away again with clinical tries from Julien Panella and Lionel Alazard.

England hinted at an improbable fightback as Halliwell laid on a try for the lively Nathan Collins and then went over himself, with Collins converting both to reduce the arrears to 36-24.

But the French secured their victory when Dany Denuwelaere scored the try his formidable performance deserved, and applied further gloss with a second try for Bourson who completed the scoring with a drop goal.

England tries Collins, Halliwell, Hawkins, Simpson. Goals Coyd, Collins 2, Roberts.

France tries G Clausells 2, Bourson 2, Denuwelaere, Alazard, Penella. Goals N Clausells 7, G Clausells 3. Drop goal Bourson