England travelled to the Parc-des-Sports in Avignon for a, pre-four nations, warm up game, the first under the custodianship of Wayne Bennett. Bennett gave five players their England debuts to herald the start of a new era; St Helens' Mark Percival and Jonny Lomax, Hull FC's Scott Taylor, Castleford's Luke Gale, and Stefan Ratchford of Warrington. Stevie Ward missed out on the seventeen after being a late addition to the squad.
This was an important build-up game ahead of the four nations with Australia, New Zealand and Scotland which gets underway next weekend and expectations were high for a big England win against a France side which was essentially the Catalans Dragons.
The sides were openly matched in the early stages of the game but just as England looked to be getting the upper hand, William Barthau kicked a terrific 40-20 on seventeen minutes. Four plays in to the set and Eloi Pelissier went from dummy half for the opening points. Tony Gigot added the extra two from just to the side of the sticks for a 6-0 home lead.
England got their first points on twenty-six when Ryan Hall took a Jonny Lomax along pass to power fifteen metres past a broken French defence to ground in the corner. Gareth Widdop converted brilliantly from the touchline to tie the sides up.
Just before the half hour Daryl Clark went two metres from dummy-half, through a fragmented defence, to ground under the sticks. Widdop kicked the extras to take a six point lead.
On thirty-four Tom Burgess swatted off three tacklers in a ten metres run which saw him drop over the line for England's third. Widdop made sure with the boot and in the space of eight minutes the visitors had scored eighteen unanswered points.
Just seconds before the interval, Ryan Hall was on the end of a last tackle passing move to find space wide left to go over in the corner. Widdop slid the ball wide of the uprights but England finished the half ahead by 22-6.
In deteriorating conditions it took twenty-seven minutes of the second half before the first points. The try came after intensive England pressure when Kevin Brown found a gap in the tiring French defence to go over from ten metres out. Widdop added the extras for 28-6 England totally in control.
Ten minutes from time and Eloi Pelissier was sin-binned for a high tackle on James Graham leaving his side down to twelve for the remainder.
Within a minute of the sin-binning Jermaine McGillvary went over in the right corner and despite the decision being referred to the video referee it was given. Widdop converted from the touchline for 34-6.
Widdop added a try to his goals on seventy-five when he collected a pinpoint Brown grubber kick on the French ten metre line to stride over. Widdop himself kicked the conversion to bring up the forty and seal a comprehensive England win.
The conditions weren't conducive to open and flowing rugby and for periods the French put up some great defence to thwart English attacks. In the end it was a comfortable win and a good run out ahead for next weeks game against New Zealand in Huddersfield. The new caps showed up well, the English defence was top notch, and the likes of Widdop and Hall showed that England should have hopes of making the four nations final.
Gigot (G), Pala, Garcia, Duport, Arnaud, Robin, Barthau, Navarrete, Da Costa, Casty, Simón, Jullien, Bosquet. Subs: Pelissier (T, SB), Goudemand, Springer, Larroyer.
Lomax, McGillvary (T), Watkins, Percival, Hall (2T), Widdop (T, 6G), Gale, Graham, Hodgson, Taylor, Whitehead, Cooper, Burgess T (T). Subs: Burgess G, Brown (T), Ratchford, Clark (T).