Steve McNamara takes no credit for France’s England win after Shaun Edwards trip

Steve McNamara is much too modest to accept that a tiny part of France’s record-breaking rugby union humbling of England last weekend might have been plotted during training drills at the Stade Gilbert Brutus.

The Catalans Dragons coach hosted esteemed Les Bleus defensive coach and ex-Wigan stalwart Shaun Edwards in the days leading up to the Six Nations thumping that underscored the recent Gallic success across both codes.

While Edwards and co prepare to face Wales this weekend with an outside chance of retaining their title, a quieter revolution in Perpignan has seen McNamara’s Dragons make an unbeaten start to their 2023 Betfred Super League campaign.

Catalans Dragons celebrate
Catalans Dragons are flying (Richard Sellers/PA)

There may be areas of acrimony between the two codes in France but it is a sign of Catalans’ progressive approach that they have forged mutually beneficial relationships with leading union figures, including Edwards, a former lynchpin of Wigan’s unmatchable golden era of the 1980s and 1990s.

“We get a lot of people from rugby union who come and get involved, and Shaun was at our training session and match against Hull FC before the England game, looking at our defensive style,” McNamara told the PA news agency.

“We’re not going to try to take any credit for that performance against England but Shaun is a regular visitor, and likewise we take plenty of elements from union to see what we can incorporate into our organisation.”

England v France – Guinness Six Nations – Twickenham Stadium
France defence coach Shaun Edwards has borrowed from the Catalans blueprint (Ben Whitley/PA)

Catalans’ strong start, which is set to be tested on Saturday by the visit of Hull KR, comes at a positive time for the club amid the ongoing IMG-led ‘re-imagination’ of the game, in which expansion, and particularly French involvement, is front and centre.

Yet despite a startling trajectory that includes a first Challenge Cup win in 2018 and the League Leaders’ Shield in 2021, McNamara acknowledges how far his club have to go before they can put themselves in a position to challenge sport’s long-reigning dominant cabal.

“There is huge development left in our organisation,” added McNamara. “When you look at the teams we are competing against, they have got 125 years of history and their roots and foundations run deep.

“We’re getting a lot of things right but it would be wrong of us to think we’re in that bracket yet. If we can continue the path we are currently on, then hopefully we can get into that echelon that Leeds, Saints and Wigan have earned the right to be in.”

The early stages of the 2023 season have offered cautious signs that a change may be in the air, with Saints struggling to shake off their World Club Challenge exertions and the likes of Warrington and Huddersfield instead battling with Catalans for top spot.

Defying wintry weather, Catalans claimed their first win over Wigan since 2011 last week, which also handed McNamara’s men their fourth straight victory from the start of the season for the first time since their arrival in Super League.

The fact that the French club have shown such promise without a handful of injured stars, including Mitchell Pearce, Fouad Yaha and England captain Sam Tomkins, provides further evidence of what a full-strength Dragons side may have in store.

But McNamara remains cautious, saying: “It’s a great position to be in but it’s way too early after four rounds to say what’s going to happen. We could easily have lost two of those games and been in a different position.

Wigan Warriors v Catalans Dragons – Betfred Super League – DW Stadium
Catalans Dragons surged to a stunning win at Wigan (Will Matthews/PA)

“We were aware that externally some people were not expecting so much of us this season, and we have shown a fantastic attitude. But we know how quickly things can change, and how much we have still got to learn and improve.”

Tomkins, the Dragons’ talisman who is yet to return from post-World Cup knee surgery, announced this month that the current campaign will be his last, and McNamara is delighted that he has chosen to stay at the club in an as-yet-undefined off-field role.

“Sam has brought amazing things to our organisation,” added McNamara. “Winning a Man of Steel and taking us to a Grand Final stand out, but the things you don’t see are his contributions off the pitch to every single player and member of staff.

“Sam has made an enormous impact on our club and hopefully, by staying in French rugby league, he will be able to help us keep that momentum going.”