Akpa, Biville to lead new look France in historic clash with Serbia
Elisa Akpa and Lauréanne Biville will lead a new look France team in an historic women's international match against Serbia at the Parc des Sports d'Avignon on Saturday.
New France head coach Romain Maillot has trimmed his squad from more than 30 players who have been training since the start of the year for their first games since last November's World Cup, with the Serbia match followed by a trip to England next month.
Akpa, who plays in the second-row, takes over the captaincy after the international retirement of Alice Varela, with Biville appointed as her deputy.
New France captain Elisa Akpa (Getty Images)
Biville has played in Australia for Brisbane Easts Tigers and represented the Warriors at the 2020 NRL Nines before returning home after COVID shut down the game. She played for Wigan in last year's Women's Super League.
They will lead a France side that includes six debutants - Justine Roses, Perle Ramazeilles, Alice Rieunaud, Salomé Ségala, Mahault Pommier and Amael Vilanove - in the first international fixture between the two nations.
Maillot said: "I want to thank and highlight the involvement of all the players who participated in the recent training camps. Although the squad is cut down, it really is the whole France group which has worked hard.
"The squad now needs to put in place what we have seen during training and make things happen automatically. We’re taking this first post World Cup game very seriously and we cannot wait to be in front of our home crowd.”
Serbia will be using the game to progress their ambitions of qualifying for France 2025, with their campaign due to kick off later this year against Ireland.
The Serbians finished last year’s Euro B Women’s competition as runners up to Greece, but the close performance against the Greeks and a victory over Turkey pushed them up the world rankings to 12th spot.
Serbia are ranked 12th on the women's IRL World Rankings
The Avignon clash will give Serbia an ideal opportunity to test themselves against one of Europe’s leading teams.
Team manager Dragan Pavlović noted: “We are honoured to be playing against the French. Exactly 70 years ago, they brought rugby league to Serbia so this is a good way to celebrate and co-incidentally the first tour after the re-establishment of SRL Federation, 20 years ago in February 2003, was to the South of France.
"Women’s rugby league is in its infancy in Serbia but with each day we are working on its development and have accomplished a lot so far.
"France is one of the top European teams which makes them a perfect opponent to kickstart our campaign. Although in this match the result is not a priority, we are still determined to put up a good fight and our best foot forward.”
Elisa Akpa, Leila Bessahli, Mélanie Bianchini, Margot Canal, Sarah Menaa, Fanny Ramos, Justine Roses, (Saint-Estève XIII Catalan), Lauréanne Biville, Cloé Guillerot, Perle Ramazeilles, Alice Rieunaud, Dorine Samarra, Manon Samarra, Salomé Ségala, Louisa Tooman (Rc Lescure Arthès XIII), Laurianne Canet (XIII Limouxin), Inés Legout, Lise Michel, Mahault Pommier(As Ayguesvives XIII)
Natasa Vignjevic (Dorcol), Anastasija Karanovic (Partisan 1953) Ljiljana Bajic, Nika Bajic, Karolina Blizanac, Tamara Bosnjak, Uma Cengaj, Anastasija Djordjevic, Jovana Fridl, Natasa Kovacevic, Teodora Marin, Marija Maslakovic, Teodora Micic, Natalija Simic, Marija Simovic, Sanja Starcevic, Jelena Stojiljkovic, Katarina Veljanovsku (Red Star)