England double-header confirmed for April 2023 as IRL chairman provides update on international calendar

England have received confirmation that France will be their next opponents in April, by which time officials promise to have finalised an end-of-season international programme.

Shaun Wane’s men will have just five months to wait before they can start to make up for the disappointment of missing out on the 2021 World Cup final after the Rugby Football League announced Warrington’s Halliwell Jones Stadium will host a Test match against the French on Saturday, April 29.

It will take the form of a double header, with England Women taking on France at 2pm followed by the men at 4.30pm.

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France will take the place of the Combined Nations All Stars, who have provided the opposition for Wane’s men for the last two years.

Mark Foster, the RFL’s chief commercial officer, said: “We wanted to ensure that our England teams would return to action in front of a home crowd as soon as possible in 2023.

“We are pleased to be able to arrange a double header against France, whose men’s and women’s teams will also be moving on from their World Cup campaigns and starting to focus on the exciting prospect of hosting the next tournament in 2025.”

England and France are the first of the 16 teams competing at the World Cup to discover their next fixtures as nations continued to be frustrated at the failure to map out a clear future for international rugby league.

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Australian Troy Grant, who was elected as chairman of IRL in March 2021, blames past mismanagement for the haphazard way the international game has been organised but has pledged to produce a 12-year calendar by the end of 2022, albeit six months later than he had originally planned.

Elliott Whitehead of England is dejected after his side's loss in the World Cup semi-final. (Photo: Will Palmer/SWpix.com)Elliott Whitehead of England is dejected after his side's loss in the World Cup semi-final. (Photo: Will Palmer/SWpix.com)
Elliott Whitehead of England is dejected after his side's loss in the World Cup semi-final. (Photo: Will Palmer/SWpix.com)

The IRL’s first job will be to finalise the qualification process for the 2025 World Cup in France and there are hopes that Australia will raise the profile for that tournament by touring the UK and France in 2024, which would be the first full Kangaroos tour for 30 years.

However, there is nothing currently on the table for next autumn and protracted talks between the Australian Players Association and the NRL over a collective bargaining agreement have been partly blamed for the delay.

But Grant, the former New South Wales deputy premier, has called an IRL board meeting in December when he hopes to firm up a programme for the next 12 years.

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“For 20 years people have been asking for a calendar,” he told the PA news agency. “We’ve never been as close.

Samoa celebrate Stephen Crichton's winning drop goal. (Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com)Samoa celebrate Stephen Crichton's winning drop goal. (Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com)
Samoa celebrate Stephen Crichton's winning drop goal. (Picture by Will Palmer/SWpix.com)

“France and England play mid-season – that’s the next Test – but before that we’ll know what’s happening at the end of the season as well.

“Some of the mismanagement in our organisation has left a fair bit of legacy. We can’t unscramble all those eggs but we can now plan ahead.

“The next two years will be focused on leading into France and the other 10 we’ll be looking for some long-term certainty for where we go strategically as well as for what works commercially and logistically.”

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Grant has already realised his first ambition, which was to take the 2025 World Cup to France, but is being forced to back-track over his plans to go to the United States in 2029.

“The game there is in a bit of turmoil,” he said. “We’ve stepped in and performed a proper review to allow the governing body to reform. They’ve got to get over the personality clashes and work towards the good of the game.

“So they’re not yet ready for ’29, although that doesn’t mean there’s not opportunities for other tournaments such as Nines to be staged in the Americas.”

It will be 2033 at the earliest before the World Cup could come back to England, with a Pacific tournament being considered for 2029 to reflect the growth of the Tonga and Samoa national teams.

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“We’re forming a committee not only to look at ’29 but also ’33 and ’37,” Grant added.

“After back-to-back World Cups in the northern hemisphere it would make logical sense to do it in the southern hemisphere in ’29 so the committee will look at all those options.

“There is no reason England can’t host ’33 if that’s the best option but you can’t just alternate between England and Australia – that’s not growing the game – and a lot of fans here tell me they want travel to a World Cup in the southern hemisphere.

“There are a few options for ’29. There’s been a proposal for a Pacific World Cup in the IRL’s hands for a number of years and that needs to probably be re-examined.

“Whether we go to what we call new territory will be considered but it’s all got to stack up.”

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