Rugby League World Cup: England and France see ‘friendship on hold’

Place: Bolton University Stadium Date: October 22, Saturday Start: 17:00 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV, BBC iPlayer and online; Live commentary from Radio 5 Live and Sports Extra; Live texts and highlights on the BBC Sport website and app

“Friendships will be disrupted” when England take on France in their second World Cup match on Saturday, says England striker Mike McMeekan.

Despite being underdogs, Shaun Wane’s men opened the tournament last weekend, hammering Samoa 60-6 in Newcastle.

France head into the game in Bolton (kick-off 17:00 BST) on the back of a 34-12 win over debutants Greece.

A win for either side would seal their place in the quarter-finals, with England starting as heavy favourites.

The two sides will meet for the 32nd time but France, ranked ninth in the world, are looking for their first win in 32 years, having won 30-10 in Perpinignan in October 2021.

England have three France-based players in their squad who can offer insider knowledge, with captain Sam Tomkins, McMeekan and hooker Michael McIlorum all playing for the Catalans Dragons.

Meanwhile, all but one of the 17 Frenchmen involved against Greece play – or have played – for the Dragons.

“England versus France is always a great game,” said McMeekan, who is rested for the game. “They are a passionate team and they have strong people in their team.

“I’m sure we’ll have trials on Saturday. I’ve trained with them and played with them all year so I know a lot of their strengths.

“I have a lot of friends in that French team, so I hope to do really well in this competition, not against us. Of course, on Saturday, those friendships will stop for 80 minutes.”

“A team full of world-class players”

Boss Wane has reshuffled his squad for the game, offering options to all seven players who missed out on the win over Samoa.

Wigan striker John Bateman is available after serving a three-match ban, while England’s all-time leading try scorer Ryan Hall is also included.

Andy Ackers, Joe Batchelor, Kai Pearce-Paul and Marc Sneyd could get their first Test caps.

Leeds’ Mikolaj Oledzki, the first Polish-born player to appear in a Challenge Cup final, is set to win his second England cap.

“The lads played really well last week so the opportunity I have now I have to make sure I do everything I can to show Shaun Wane what I’m capable of,” he said.

“The squad is full of world-class players and unfortunately only 17 can take the field every week, but every chance you get you have to grab it with both hands.

“Having the chance to run this weekend would be amazing. It’s a great honor to put that England shirt back on.”

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