48 hours after suffering a first ever defeat on home soil, reigning World Wheelchair Rugby League champions France bounced back in dramatic fashion at the Toulon Sports Palace yesterday (Sunday 23 June).
England withstood a ferocious French fightback to win the first test 31-25 in Apt on Friday and looked set to clinch a 2-0 series win thanks to a second-half hat-trick from their inspirational captain, Halifax’s Jack Brown.
England were trailing 38-22 before Brown came to the rescue, his three tries levelling the scores before Argonauts’ Joe Coyd gave England a 44-38 lead with just minutes remaining.
But England’s resurrection met the French resistance – and this time Les Bleus would not be denied, two late tries giving a shell-shocked England no opportunity to hit back.
“This was an incredible game” said England coach Mark Roughsedge. “One minute we were down and out, the next a series win was within our grasp. In the end we couldn’t quite get over the line, but I’m proud of the whole squad. They’ve done themselves and the country proud.
“The series may have finished level but there is one winner and that’s Wheelchair Rugby League. Our French hosts have been wonderful and both sides have demonstrated just what an amazing version of a great game this is.
“The experience we’ve had this week has given us the perfect platform for our autumn tour Down Under and for the 2021 Rugby League World Cup when the Wheelchair competition will be played alongside the Men’s and Women’s World Cups. These are exciting times for Wheelchair Rugby League.”
England had gone into that seesaw second half trailing 20-16, the French rallying well before the break in response to tries from James Simpson, Seb Bechara and Ryan Richardson.
Leeds Rhinos’ Tom Halliwell got himself on the scoresheet too soon after the restart, but three tries in as many minutes had seemingly put the French out of sight at 38-22 – until the drama of the final 15 minutes unfolded.
Nathan Collins, Leeds Rhinos
Joe Coyd, Argonauts (Dartford)
James Simpson, Leeds Rhinos
Seb Bechara, Catalan Dragons
Lewis King, Argonauts
Jack Brown (Capt.), Halifax
Tom Halliwell, Leeds Rhinos
Ryan Richardson, Leeds Rhinos
Jodie Boyd-Ward, Leeds Rhinos