The best two sides in the Wheelchair World Cup had mad it to the final for an eagerly anticipated showdown at Manchester Central in front of a sell-out crowd as England took on the old enemy France for the games ultimate prize.
The top two rated sides met for the eighteenth time, France with the lion share of the victories but England having won the last meeting between the two in June of this year in a friendly match. The bookies couldn´t choose between the two sides, offering both at 10/11. France and England have faced of in the two previous World Cup finals, France winning on both occasions by narrow margins and looking for three in a row.
The atmosphere was electric, the stage was set for a thriller, the home nations only hope of a trophy at the end of an exceptional jamboree of rugby league.
It was a frustrating start for England as they conceded a penalty on eighty seconds for a mistake at the play the ball. Lionel Alazard took the opportunity to open the scoring with the goal.
Both sides opted for an early kicking game, England the most successful as they forced the first goal line drop out. Nothing came of it, but the exchanges were frenetic.
Just before the tenth minute a passing move from right to left saw the ball in the hands of Alazard on the overlap to touch down. Nicolas Clausells took the conversion as Alazard received treatment and slotted the ball over from the touchline for an 8-0 lead.
England spilled the ball on the French line on fourteen when they should have opened their own account. And when Joe Coyd pushed Clausells over on fifteen France had a great opportunity, but excellent defence kept them out.
On eighteen Tom Halliwell threw a dummy after taking the ball at first receiver and went in from three metres to score under the sticks for England. Robert Hawkins added the extras, now just two points between the sides.
On twenty-eight the French regained their lead Mostefa Abassi taking the pass in acres of spce to wheel over the line and celebrate the try before grounding. Clausells added the touchline conversion for 14-6.
Jack Brown controversially had a try ruled out on thirty-six for a double movement as he lunged for the line, a decision which looked harsh on the replays. But two minutes later a deft pass from Nathan Collins found Brown speeding down the middle to take the pass and score under the sticks. Collins added the conversion, and the deficit was just two points at the interval.
England started the second half on the offensive and after a French knock-on England moved the ball all the way across the field with Lewis King finding space wide to score in the corner. Collins was wide with his conversion attempt, but England had a two-point lead.
After going behind the French side started to make errors as they pushed to regain the lead.
Coyd went close on fifty-two but was tackled on the line but on the next play Jack Brown was on hand to take the pass and stretch for the line. Collins added the conversion for an eight-point advantage.
Four minutes later France hit back with Gilles Clausells dummying twice before wheeling over the line to ground. Nicolas Clausells added the conversion to get his side within two again. The game was still anyones.
Back-to-back penalties gifted France a kickable penalty and they opted to take it, Clausells finding the target to level the scores at 22-22.
A foul by Clausells, followed by dissent to the official, enabled England to have another shot at goal and Collins obliged to put his side back into the lead.
A France penalty on seventy-one from Clausells again levelled the scores at 24-24, the game was going to the wire.
A Brown ball steal forty out form the England line on seventy-four allowed Clausells a penalty but he pulled his kick right of the uprights.
With just over two minutes remaining a cheeky double dummy from Tom Halliwell saw him go in from ten metres out for a crucial fifth try for England. Collins was wide with his conversion attempt, snatching at the kick and pulling it wide.
But the miss didn’t matter as England held on until the final hooter to secure the win.
England are Champions of the World and will lift the trophy for the first time, unseating the defending world champions. It was a sensational team effort to lift English hearts and ensure that one of the three trophies was taken by a home nation. The England boys were absolutely delighted with the win and the world record crowd were in raptures.
England: Tom Halliwell (2T), Robert Hawkins (G), Joe Coyd, Sebastien Bechara, Lewis King (T). Subs: Nathan Collins (3G), Jack Brown (2T), Declan Roberts, Wayne Boardman, James Simpson.
France: Mostefa Abassi (T), Lionel Alazard (T, G), Jeremy Bourson, Julien Pennella, Nicolas Clausells (5G). Subs: Florian Guttadoro, Jonathan Hivernat, Guillaume Mautz, Gilles Clausells (T), Arno Vargas.
Score Progression: 0-2, 0-6, 0-8, 4-8, 6-8, 6-12, 6-14, 10-14, 12-14 : HT : 16-14, 20-14, 22-14, 22-18. 22-20, 22-22, 24-22, 24-24, 28-24 : FT .
Lead Exchanges: France – England – Square – England – Square - England.
Referee: Ollie Cruikshank.
Attendance: 4,526 at Manchester Central, Manchester. (World Record)