Sam Tomkins relishing prospect of leading England out in Perpignan

Sam Tomkins is relishing the prospect of leading England out against France on his home ground in Perpignan.

The Catalans Dragons full-back, who was appointed England captain for the mid-season game against the Combined Nations All Stars in June, is still coming to terms with the disappointment of the postponement of the World Cup.

The tournament, due to kick off on October 23, was pushed back 12 months after Australia and New Zealand took the decision to withdraw in light of the coronavirus pandemic and received the backing of the NRL clubs.

The Gilbert Brutus Stadium in Perpignan
Stade Gilbert Brutus is expected to host an international between France and England (Ian Laybourn/PA)

However, the Rugby Football League is close to securing an agreement with their French counterparts for an autumn international at Stade Gilbert Brutus on Saturday, October 23 – when England were due to play Samoa in the World Cup opener – and Tomkins is delighted.

“I’m still disappointed about the World Cup,” Tomkins told the PA news agency. “I don’t think it was the right decision.

“We need Australia and New Zealand in to make it a true World Cup because without all the big teams, it wouldn’t have been the same so they had to cancel it.

“It was still disappointing but I’m glad it’s looking like we will get an international at the end of the year.”

St Helens v Catalans Dragons – Dacia Magic Weekend – St James’ Park
Catalans forward Jordan Dezaria is among the new crop of French players to take Super League by storm (Richard Sellers/PA)

The RFL have shied away from playing France in recent years due to the lop-sided nature of the contests but the achievement of both the Catalans and Championship neighbours Toulouse in winning the League Leaders’ Shield for the first time this year suggests the French will be competitive, especially on home soil.

Catalans coach Steve McNamara, who was in charge of England from 2010-15, has given opportunities to the likes of Arthur Mourge, Mathieu Laguerre and Mickael Goudemand this year and Tomkins says they have played crucial roles in the club’s breakthrough season.

“I think the difference this year is probably the quality of the young French kids coming through,” he said.

“The Catalans have had the likes of Arthur Mourge coming through but, below that, people like Romain Franco, Coco Le Cam and Jordan Dezeria have not just come in and filled a gap, they’ve all made an impact most weeks.

“We’ve got more quality young French players than ever before and a lot of them will be playing in the French team. What we’re doing for French rugby league, along with Toulouse, is massive.

“It’s a huge year for French rugby league and playing France versus England in Perpignan is a perfect situation.”

Catalans Dragons v Hull Kingston Rovers – Betfred Super League – Emerald Headingley Stadium
Catalans Dragons centre Mathieu Laguerre has seized his opportunity this season (PA Images/Martin Rickett)

Mourge is widely viewed as the most exciting of the French prospects and is compared by Tomkins to former Leeds and England hooker or half-back Rob Burrow.

“He’s very exciting,” Tomkins said. “I know what he brings and, if he plays for France against England, we’ll have to be on defensively for him.

“He’s got the ability Rob Burrow had where he comes off the bench and causes a bit of chaos, he’s that quick.

“When he runs at big fellas after 60 minutes when they’re tiring, it must be a nightmare.

“At the moment he is playing a big role coming off the bench and the big thing is he’s getting minutes. He’s not having to play reserve grade while he’s waiting for a spot in the first team so he will be well prepared when he gets his chance.”