Once the gnashing of teeth over the postponement of the 2021 World Cup died down, little time was wasted in organising a one-off match between France and England in Perpignan, a double header with a women’s international between the same two sides.
Shaun Wane took charge of his side for just the second time, if you count the game against the Combined Nations, as they took on a French side who haven’t beaten England for three decades.
French rugby league is certainly on the up and up following the brilliant seasons from the Catalans Dragons and Toulouse Olympique XIII, and hopes were high locally that they might spring a surprise on the favourites as Wane blooded several new caps.
Within a minute of the kick-off a high tackle by France resulted in the first fracas of the game with John Bateman going close to scoring on the last play of the resulting set.
After an eventful four minutes Liam Farrell took a neat Paul McShane pass to spin out of a tackle and stumble to the line for the opening try of the game. Jordan Abdull added the conversion, his first points on his England debut.
On nine minutes a flying Tom Davies went over in the right corner, his entire body over the touch line as he grounded one handed. Abdull was unable to add the conversion from the touchline but England were in total control.
France put their kick-off out on the full and as England returned the ball with interest, Tommy Makinson went over down the left in an acre of space. Abdull again failed with the conversion, another missed from the touchline.
The skipper, John Bateman, scored the fourth try of the afternoon as he took the ball in the pocket and evaded the tacklers to go in from twenty metres off a Jonny Lomax pass. This time Abdull was able to convert for 20-0 with nineteen minutes on the clock.
Morgan Escare had a try ruled out on twenty for a foot in touch, nothing was going for the home side, but the earlier points avalanche had abated as the French defence held firm.
A dangerous tackle by Reece Lyne on thirty-eight, lifting the legs in a one-man tackle saw the England man warned by the referee, lucky not to see a yellow card.
Tom Davies knocked on with forty-four on the clock with the line begging and no French tackler close and within a minute the French were on for their first try of the afternoon with Coretin Le Cam throwing a dummy and using his massive frame to get the ball on the ground. Mark Kheirallah was wide with his touchline conversion attempt.
On fifty minutes Gigot had a try ruled out, this one for an illegal ball steal but for the first time in the game England were losing their composure.
On fifty-seven the French were denied again, on this occasion for an obstruction. England were riding their luck despite a sixteen-point lead which could easily have been single figures.
Jonny Lomax was sin-binned on seventy in a confusing incident but with seventy-one on the clock Tommy Makinson found space wide left to take a Zak Hardaker pass and walk in for a four-pointer to kill off any thoughts of a French fightback. Abdull couldn’t add the extras but with a twenty-point lead there was no way back for France.
Pelissier was held short on seventy-four but a fast play the ball put Justin Sangare clear to spin over the line. The boot of Kheirallah brought up the double figures for the home side at 10-24.
The last scoring action of the game was a second Bateman try on seventy-eight as he took an offload five from the line and shrugged off his tackler to drop over the line. Abdull added his third conversion for 30-10.
It took the French side twenty minutes to find their feet, twenty minutes during which England sprinted into a 20-0 lead. Shaun Wane will be furious that his side failed to build on their great start to the game and will count his side fortunate that France had three tries ruled out, or the outcome of the game may have been very different. This performance will have taught England very little but will have given the losing side plenty of confidence for when the two sides meet again in the World Cup next Autumn. Plenty of work for Wane to do before his sides next outing.
France: Kheirallah (G), Escare, Laguerre, Jussaume, Yaha, Mourgue, Gigot, Navarrete, Marion, Dezaria, Jullien, Seguier, Goudemand. Subs: Pelissier, Puech, Sangare (T), Le Cam (T).
England: Evalds, Davies (T), Hardaker, Lyne, Makinson (2T), Lomax (SB on 70), Abdull (3G), Walmsley, McShane, Cooper, Bateman (2T), Farrell (T), Knowles. Subs: Currie, Leeming, Oledzki, Philbin.
Referee: Benjamin Casty.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 0-10, 0-14, 0-18, 0-20 : HT : 4-20, (SB), 4-24, 8-24, 10-24, 10-28, 10-30 : FT.