Wales Rugby League’s Executive Chairman Mark Rowley has said that qualifying for the Four Nations is bigger than Wales Rugby Union winning the Six Nations.
Rowley was in France watching Wales beat the hosts 12-11 to retain the Alitalia European Cup and qualify to face England, Australia and New Zealand next year.
Lloyd White’s penalty sealed things for Wales right at the death after skipper Gareth Thomas and North Wales youngster Rhys Williams scored the Welsh tries earlier in the game.
“This is massive for Wales Rugby League,” he said. “Some people have compared it to winning the Six Nations in rugby union but I think it’s bigger. We are now in the elite of Rugby League and are in the top four nations in the world. This is a massive boost for Rugby League in Wales and we look forward to welcoming England, Australia and New Zealand next year. The win shows how far we’ve come in such a short time. It’s our biggest achievement ever.”
Coach Iestyn Harris knows that the hard work is just about to begin for him and for the whole of Wales.
“I’m very very pleased,” he said. “It’s an exciting time for Wales Rugby League. We’ve not gone ahead of ourselves. What was important to us was to win this competition. The benefits of it will come into fruition for Wales Rugby League over the next 12 months. It’s up to the powers that be now to decide whether we get a mid-season test against one of the big three and there’s the prospect of the Four Nations after that. It’s extremely pleasing to have won.
“To be An extremely good French team full of Super League standard players on their own soil is an achievement in itself. For now, Wales Rugby League, which has gone through some dark times over the past four or five years, to be in an elite World competition next year with the three best teams in world Rugby League is a testament to everyone involved in Wales Rugby League. That’s to people going into the schools in Wales to teach children Rugby League to the junior coaches in Wales, to what they’ve achieved with the youngsters coming through. If we keep improving, who knows where we can go?
“It was a tough game today, full of intensity. France came back at us and were close to winning the game, but Lloyd White held his nerve. It was a fitting finish with Lloyd kicking the goal to give us the victory because he was our stand-out player in this tournament. It’s important he keeps working hard and doing the little things right and if he keeps heading in the direction he’s going in, the sky’s the limit for him as it is for all of us here at Wales Rugby League.”
Chairman of the Rugby League European Federation, Richard Lewis has hailed the success of the Alitalia European Cup which was won by Wales on Saturday following a dramatic 12-11 triumph in Albi.
The victory sees Iestyn Harris’ men qualify for the 2011 Four Nations tournament where they will face England, Australia and New Zealand.
Speaking after Ireland faced Scotland in the sixth and final match of the three week competition, Lewis said, “The Alitalia European Cup has been a huge success on so many fronts.”
“The competition went up a level when such high profile sponsors allied themselves to it and their confidence in the sport and the product has been matched on and off the field.”
“There have been some terrific clashes, not least Wales’ two one-point wins to bring them the ultimate glory not least yesterday in a match that had huge meaning and resonance. The French were devastated to miss out which shows how much the competition means.”
He continued, “Attendances have been significantly up especially in France and totalling over 40,000; television coverage and viewing figures have been similarly excellent – particularly on French terrestrial TV – and there has been worldwide interest in the outcomes.”
“Each of the four competing nations have managed as well as staged their home fixtures and the professionalism displayed has been another highly uplifting feature.”
“Coupled with the expanded RLEF Board and further developments such as next weekend’s Nordic Cup, the progress being made across the northern hemisphere is genuine and seemingly sustainable.”