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France aim for New Zealand RLWC upset

France will get the second round of matches in the 14th Rugby League World Cup under way against holders New Zealand in Avignon on Friday, aiming to continue the run of shocks.
France aim for New Zealand RLWC upset
by AAP

By Ian Laybourn

AVIGNON, France, Oct 31 PA - France will get the second round of matches in the 14th Rugby League World Cup under way against holders New Zealand in Avignon on Friday, aiming to continue the run of shocks.

Captain Olivier Elima will be hoping his side can be inspired by the deeds of minnows Scotland and first-time qualifiers Italy and the United States, who all defied expectations to open their campaigns with victories.

The French were themselves victims of a giant-killing act before the tournament kicked off when they suffered an embarrassing home defeat by the United States in a warm-up match in Toulouse.

But they bounced back to beat Papua New Guinea 9-8 in their opening group B match and Elima says that has put them in great heart as they prepare to face the Kiwis in front of a capacity 17,000 crowd at Parc des Sport.

"It was probably a good thing losing to the USA because it gave us a kick up the backside," said Elima.

"We just worked really hard on what we did wrong there.

"Just having a World Cup game in France, with a sell-out game in Avignon, it is just massive, and we are playing the world champions, what else can you ask for?"

Elima, the Catalan Dragons forward who has also played in Super League for Wakefield, Castleford and Bradford, has painful memories of the last World Cup in 2008, when the French ended up with the wooden spoon.

But he says the team spirit engendered by new coach Richard Agar is already starting to pay off, as evidenced in their thrilling win over the Kumuls.

"Every time we come in off the pitch having done good things we do high fives and you can really see the positive side of the French team," Elima said.

"In the past, when bad things have happened, we have put our heads down but now that is gone.

"We did some bad things in the PNG game and kept thinking positive - that was a big change for us and it showed in the hard times in the game, like in the second half, but we kept working and I was really proud of the boys."

The winners on Friday night can begin their preparations for the quarter-finals, with the losers needing to win their last group game to make absolutely sure of a place in the knockout stages.

New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney, unhappy with his side's defensive display in their 42-24 win over Samoa, rings the changes to give all his 24 players a run-out in the first two games with the exception of former Wigan scrum-half Thomas Leuluai, who is still nursing a groin strain.

Former All Black Sonny Bill Williams, who began his rugby union career in France with Toulon, is among the players rested while ex-Leeds forward Greg Eastwood is among those given a chance to press their claims for a place in Kearney's first-choice line-up.

Kearney has given a second chance to centre Bryson Goodwin after he endured a difficult time against BJ Leilua in Monday's opener against the Samoans.

"I wanted to give him the opportunity to try and fix that," Kearney said.


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