Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson has nominated rookie Catalans playmaker Arthur Mourgue as one of the French players to watch in this weekend’s Test against England at Gilbert Brutus Stadium.
With St Helens halfback Theo Fages among a host of experienced players ruled out after a gruelling season in which Catalans qualified for the Super League grand final and Toulouse won the second-tier Championship, Mourgue will partner former Cronulla playmaker Tony Gigot in the halves.
Robinson, who is the FFRXIII director of rugby, will be watching from afar as new coach Laurent Frayssinous takes charge of France for the first time ahead of next year’s World Cup and is particularly interested in the performances of Mourgue, Gigot and lock Mickael Goudemand.
“A lot of the senior guys aren’t playing so this allows us to see a lot of those young guys and build the squad for next year. That is the real positive for us,” Robinson said.
“The one I am really looking forward to watching is Arthur Mourgue. He has come off the bench for Catalans and he is that exciting speed and vision-type player. He has played one, seven, six and nine for Catalans this year and he will play six against England.
“Arthur is the young half coming through who can really change a moment. He is quick, sharp and instinctive. He is really quite dynamic, but I am looking forward to seeing him for the full 80 minutes. It is good to get him starting in an international against England.”
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The pairing of Mourgue and the well-travelled Gigot, who now plays for Toulouse and had a stint with Cronulla in 2013 in which he played mostly for Newtown, will ensure France aren’t lacking for creativity.
However, Robinson wants to see how the French playmakers perform without the likes of James Maloney or Sam Tomkins calling the shots, as they do for Catalans.
“I coached Tony at Catalans when I was there [in 2011 and 2012],” said Robinson, who began his coaching career at Toulouse in 2005. “Tony is quite an experienced guy and has always been creative and willing to take a risk. He has a beautiful kicking game.
“I want to see what I saw from Toulouse and Catalans this year – the ability to execute a game plan for 80-minutes and to stay on task but also have that French style about them as well. I want to see that development of their game at the international level.
“I am really interested to see how those players in the decision-making roles perform. Before we get into the future, with the World Cup next year, I want to see them make decisions in big games - not look for Jimmy Maloney and those guys.”
Other key players include 25-year-old Goudemand, who will be expected to step up in the absence of experienced middle forwards Ben Garcia and Julian Bousquet, centre Mathieu Jussaume, who was man-of-the-match in Toulouse’s grand final triumph and fullback Mark Kheirallah, who played for the Roosters in 2011.
Describing Jussaume as the “French Papenhuyzen”, Robinson said that France often lacked outside backs of his calibre because they were targets for rugby union but he and Catalans centre Mathieu Laguerre would provide strike on the edges.
“We have developed in the forwards and the halves but Jussaume is really key for us. He has played right centre for Toulouse for a few years now, but you can see that he has grown in confidence now and his execution in the final was really key for Toulouse," he said.
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Robinson helped Frayssinous organise the structure of the French camp and their program for preparing for the Test in Perpignan and has been in regular contact with him and the squad.
The three-time NRL premiership-winning coach was due to speak with the team leaders – Gigot, Mourgue, Goudemand and hooker Eloi Pelissier, who will start from the interchange – ahead of the match.
Gigot is captain in the absence of Fages and Garcia, who played under 20s for Brisbane and Penrith.
“I will talk to the four leaders about their roles and what they are looking to do but also how they are looking to support some of the young guys,” Robinson said.
“I will then do a wrap-up post-game. It is the first Test for Laurent and his staff, so it is obviously a good trial for us to run into next year’s World Cup.”
Mark Kheirallah (Toulouse), Morgan Escaré (Salford), Mathieu Jussaume (Toulouse), Matthieu Laguerre (Catalans), Fouad Yaha (Catalans); Arthur Mourgue (Catalans), Tony Gigot © (Toulouse); Romain Navarrete (Toulouse), Anthony Marion (Toulouse), Jordan Dezaria (Catalans), Benjamin Jullien (Catalans), Paul Séguier (Catalans), Mickael Goudemand (Catalans). Interchange: Eloi Pélissier (Toulouse), Maxime Puech (Catalans), Justin Sangaré (Catalans), Corentin Le Cam (Catalans), Mathieu Cozza (Catalans), César Rougé (Catalans).
Niall Evalds (Castleford); Tom Davies (Catalans), Reece Lyne (Wakefield), Zak Hardaker (Wigan), Tommy Makinson (St Helens); Jonny Lomax (St Helens), Jordan Abdull (Hull KR); Alex Walmsley (St Helens), Paul McShane (Castleford), Mike Cooper (Warrington), John Bateman © (Wigan), Liam Farrell (Wigan), Morgan Knowles (St Helens). Interchange: Ben Currie (Warrington), Kruise Leeming (Leeds), Mikolaj Oledzki (Leeds), Joe Philbin (Warrington).
France v England at Gilbert Brutus Stadium, Perpignan will be broadcast on Fox Sports and Kayo from 12.30am Sunday, November 24