Today's Number: Rugby League: France looking up

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

IT SAYS everything you need to know about the recent fortunes of the code in France that a 36-11 defeat at the hands of the distinctly battered New Zealand tourists should be hailed as an encouraging performance, writes Dave Hadfield.

Set in the context of losses by 48-6 and 72-6 to Great Britain last season, however, last Sunday's display in Carcassonne is an improvement.

Although France managed to hang on to the ball for their sets of tackles - something they seemed incapable of last season - other faults, like the frailty of their tackling under concerted pressure and the lack of any kicking game, were still evident.

The importance of the French to a sport that, for all the signs of progress in the South Pacific and elsewhere, is still short of full Test-playing nations is illustrated by the coming year's international calendar.

Both Britain and Australia have effectively down-graded them by limiting them to one Test, but in each case the Test against the French will be the only one between now and the Ashes series in England next autumn.

Great Britain go to Carcassonne on 20 March for their one full international outing before the arrival of the Australians. France's short tour of Australia includes a Test in Townsville on 6 July.