Great Britain coach Peter Buckle wants his side to embrace the challenges ahead as they tip off start their EuroBasket Women build-up with a friendly against France in Roanne.

Facing the Olympic silver medallists on Thursday on their own turf is among the toughest starts the Australian could have asked for at the outset of six tune-ups before the European championship start next month.

But despite a virus in the camp that has knocked back his preparations, Buckle hopes three games in three days will give him a proper look at where his squad stands.

“We’re really looking forward to it because it’s going to test us,” he said. “The first few games that we play, with Serbia and Slovakia as well, are going to make us work really hard and give us a taste of where we’re at and where we can improve. If you want to be in the top six in Europe, you want to learn how to face the best.

“The trip will give us the chance to see how we fit together and come a bit closer to a final 12. And then when we move onto the next games in Spain, it will hopefully be another step forward.”

It’s Year Two at the helm for Buckle who plotted GB’s qualification last summer after taking over from Damian Jennings who – along with Vanessa Ellis – remains on his staff for what will be the toughest of tilts at achieving Olympic qualification in Hungary.

British Basketball have invested much of what remains of their reserves in getting this squad – now reduced to 16 – as prepared as possible.

“Most of our players have been in programmes set up by our strength and conditioning coaches since last month,” the coach reveals. “So we’re ahead of 12 months ago.”

But not significantly so, following the unexpected bombshell that Jo Leedham was opting out once again, lengthening the odds still further. “It was just unfortunate,” Buckle declares with a touch of understatement.

“Poor Jo, just late in the season, her injury really flared up and she had to withdraw and take care of herself. We learnt that just before camp but sometimes these things happen.”

In her absence, those remaining will be asked to scrap and battle and scrounge for every point and possession. It has become almost a hallmark of GB Women, ever since his compatriot Tom Maher took charge at the start of the lead-up to the 2012 Olympics.

“The strength of Great Britain has always been the tenacity and team focus,” his successor reflects. “And it will be no different this year.”

After training camp in Worcester, France beckons (BB/Mansoor Ahmed)

After training camp in Worcester, France beckons (BB/Mansoor Ahmed)

He will benefit from some notable additions. Chantelle Handy returns. So too Temi Fagbenle and Azania Stewart to significantly upgrade the frontcourt.

“In the guard position, we’ve got Stef Collins, who was great for us last year and is ready to lead the game. Rachael (Vanderwal)’s had a great year in Spain. We’ve got some junior talent coming in to add depth, not just for training but to push the older athletes.

“There’s Dominique (Allen) and Ella (Clark) too, people who have been here for multiple years from the Olympic Games, so the experience is coming together nicely.”

Now is just the test bed. What matters most is that it all flows seamlessly during five days in June when Russia, Latvia, Serbia and Croatia stand between GB and the second round of EuroBasket. Venture beyond that, and Rio is in sight. Miss out, and the repercussions will be immense.

That, you wonder, must feel like a heap of pressure on Buckle’s shoulders.

“Mate, that’s what I’m here for,” he laughs. “That’s my job. I’m happy to take these things on. It’s not easy. Without a doubt. But I’m not in this for an easy life. We’ve got a great coaching staff and support staff. Athletes who understand the task that’s ahead of them.

“It’s a large task. But we’ll do everything we can, make sure we cover all our bases and take our GB game style into EuroBasket.”

Thursday International Women’s Friendly (Roanne). France v Great Britain (7.45)

Friday International Women’s Friendly (Lyon). Great Britain v Slovakia (5.30)

Saturday International Women’s Friendly (Bourg). Great Britain v Serbia (3pm)

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