Scotland will open their defence of the European Championship title at Wrexham against Wales on Friday 16 October, as the full schedule is confirmed.
The Bravehearts – with Danny Brough named player of the tournament – won their first-ever silverware last season in one of closest competitions staged, taking the title on points difference of less than a try over France, with Ireland also registering two wins out of three.
Scotland will return to the Borders and stage another international at Galashiels when Steve McCormack’s men face Ireland the following week, finishing with a match in Avignon against the French.
Further reward for winning the Euros last year was qualification for the 2016 Four Nations against England, Australia and New Zealand and preparations for that will also be on McCormack’s agenda.
“Places in the Four Nations squad are up for grabs,” he said. “A lot of players performed superbly well last year. They will have a chance to prove they deserve a place against the best in the world and there will be some serious competition for places from players injured last year and those who’ve come on a lot this season.”
Ireland were desperately unfortunate to miss out, inches away from what would have been a clinching try as the final whistle blew against Wales last season. Coach Mark Aston can’t wait for the opportunity to try and redress the balance.
“The excitement around the Ireland squad for the 2015 European Championship is growing, the senior players are already speaking about building on the successful 2014 tournament in which we went very close to winning,” he noted.
“When you talk about every minute mattering, that was certainly the case last year as we could have won on the last play of the final game. We had great wins against France and Wales which gives us something to build on and there are encouraging developments taking place in the domestic game in Ireland which should give us a bigger pool to select from.”
France coach Richard Agar claims his side have great incentive for the autumn series. “A lot of the senior guys who didn’t play for us last year, when we came so close to winning this Championship which would have seen us qualify for the 2016 Four Nations, have some regrets about what could have been,” he acknowledged.
“Our guys have a point to prove, especially looking towards the next World Cup in 2017. We’ve lost Gregory Mounis and Olivier Elima to retirement but we still think that there is the basis of a squad, starting here in the Euros, to take us through. More players are looking for different experiences outside France, which is healthy for the game and the national side.”
Wales are in a rebuilding phase but for their head coach, John Kear, there is much to look forward to as they open the competition at home to the defending champions.
“We hope to progress from last year as we look towards qualifying for the 2017 Rugby League World Cup,” he acknowledged. “We built some solid foundations and created a great atmosphere in the Welsh camp. We’re hoping to have a more representative squad for this year’s tournament while also keeping some of the top performers from 2014. We’re delighted to be returning to Wrexham, while having an international at Cardiff Arms Park for the first time in almost 20 years is something that I’m sure everyone will be looking forward to.”
2015 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS SCHEDULE
WALES v SCOTLAND Wrexham 20.00
FRANCE v IRELAND Albi 15.30 ROUND 2
SCOTLAND v IRELAND Galashiels, 19.30
WALES v FRANCE Cardiff, 13.30 ROUND 3
FRANCE v SCOTLAND Avignon, 15.30
IRELAND v WALES Bray, 17.00