McNamara prepared for French resistance
England coach Steve McNamara is warning his players to expect a backlash from France when they meet in Avignon this evening.
A full-strength French team were soundly beaten 38-18 by the England Knights at Leigh last Saturday but McNamara expects Bobbie Goulding’s men to be a different proposition with home advantage.
“They’re on home soil in front of a big crowd and, having had a run-out, I’m sure they are going to be a whole lot better than they were last week,” he said.
“We want that to be the case. We want the toughest game possible for us to get us ready for what is going to be a tough tournament.”
England have spent a week in camp at Loughborough University, where McNamara put his team through a final training session yesterday morning before boarding a flight for Avignon from East Midlands Airport, and he is delighted with the build-up to the Four Nations.
“Preparations have gone well,” McNamara told reporters at the airport. “We’ve trained well.
“Our opposed sessions against the Knights have been something we’ve been looking to introduce and certainly increased our chances of playing better in this game.
“Loughborough has been an outstanding facility and the Knights have been great for us. We are pretty much ready to go.
“We want to get into the swing of it straight away and get some confidence. We’ve certainly got some belief in the squad with the way we’ve prepared.”
The seven players in McNamara’s 24-man squad not chosen for today’s game joined the rest on the flight and the coach insists he has not yet settled on his team for the opening Four Nations game against Wales at Leigh Sports Village on Saturday week.
“This is the team for this week,” he said. “We’ll look at the opposition next week. We’ve gone with a bench with a lot of versatility in it and we’ve gone with three front-rowers and not four.
“We’ve got seven very, very good players who are all first picks for their clubs and not being in the team becomes alien to them.
“It’s probably not happened to them since they were breaking into professional sport and establishing themselves.
“They are all with us. We are all going as a group; it’s important for us to do that.”
McNamara is expected to use back-rowers Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Ben Westwood for spells in the front row while Melbourne full-back or stand-off Gareth Widdop is likely to relieve Kevin Sinfield at some stage to enable him to cover for hooker James Roby.
“I see Gareth coming into the halves at some stage,” McNamara added. “He’s obviously a very capable full-back if anything untoward happened to Sam (Tomkins).
“We haven’t gone with two out-and-out hookers but Kevin has played at that level very well in the past and I’m confident that, if James needs a rest, we’ve got all areas covered.”
McNamara, whose squad were due to visit Parc des Sports today ahead of the game, is looking forward to seeing Australian referee Matt Cecchin in action ahead of the Four Nations series.
“It’s all very useful,” he said. “I’m sure at some stage we’ll come across him in the Four Nations. Playing at international level, sometimes interpretations are slightly different and we get first-hand experience of that this week.
“We expect to perform very well and if we do that, expect the result to follow.
“It is our first game as a group so I am sure there will be some very good things which come out of it and some things we will want to improve on for the following week.”