JOHN KEAR has challenged his Wales side to keep themselves in contention for World Cup qualification until their clash with Ireland at the Racecourse on November 11.

Defending the European Cup they won in 2015, Wales face a tough opening test in France on Saturday in the first of three autumn internationals as they aim to book their place 2021 World Cup place.

After their trip to Carcassonne, The Dragons will will face Scotland in Galashiels on November 2 before they host host Ireland in Wrexham on November 11.

Head coach Kear put his 25-man squad through their paces in a training session at Deeside Leisure Centre this week and is relishing the challenge ahead.

Reflecting on the day-long session, Kear said: “We’re delighted with how things have gone. The training session at Deeside has been tremendous and the players applied themselves well with great enthusiasm, great commitment and an element of smartness there as well and I was delighted with that.

“But obviously we realise that in a European Championship we’ve been give a tough draw with France and Scotland away before we welcome Ireland to the Racecourse.

“Our goal is to make sure that the third game is a meaningful game, whether it’s to qualify for the World Cup or whether it’s to win the group. So that’s what we’re striving to do and the approach we’re taking to the first two away games against France and Scotland.”

The top two teams in this year’s tournament will automatically qualify for the next World Cup, which will be hosted in England.

The nations finishing third and fourth will face Italy, the two top teams from Euro B (featuring Russia, Serbia and Spain) and winners of Euro C (comprising six nations) in a subsequent two-pool competition.

Wales head into the tournament as outsiders to qualify at the first time of asking, but Kear says his side will embrace their underdog status.

He said: “We were winners in 2015 but that doesn’t add any pressure as far we’re concerned.

“According to the bookies we’re fourth favourites, but we’re not bothered about that.

“We’re happy to go under the radar because we’re confident in what we’re doing, in the personnel we’ve got available to us and that we’ll perform well.

“There’s a lot at stake in this year’s internationals and we’re all looking forward to the challenge.

“We have a good mix of youth and experience in our squad and it’s really encouraging to see lots of the up-and-coming talent progressing through to the senior team.

“There are now 17 Welsh-born players in the squad is a real testament to the development of rugby league in Wales and also testament to the fact that we’re a true national team. I believe that if you select players who are true nationals then they play with passion, desire and enthusiasm for their national team.”