Not perfect, but it’s a start

League Express editor MARTYN SADLER reflects on England’s performance to beat France in both of Saturday’s internationals in Perpignan.
From England’s point of view, their women’s performance on Saturday was in direct contrast to the men’s performance later in the afternoon.

Whereas it took the English women 26 minutes to score their first try, before going on to hammer the French 40-4, the English men were 20 points up after 18 minutes, but after that both sides scored ten points each.

Given that both games were shown on the BBC, it was disappointing that the second game was virtually over so early, which might have persuaded some people to switch to another channel.

If they did so, they would have missed quite a stirring fightback by the French, who, like England, were giving debuts to several players.

England never looked in danger of losing the game, but the French came close several times, and if they had enjoyed more luck with some of their disallowed tries we can be sure that the scoreline would have been closer.

During the week leading up to the game, the biggest news was the appointment of John Bateman as the England captain.

Bateman had enjoyed an underwhelming season for Wigan in 2021 and some people might have thought that he was fortunate to be in the side at all, being selected for his reputation rather than his achievements in a difficult year for him. And yet it was a decision that proved to be fully merited, with Bateman leading from the front and scoring two tries, with his first one coming from great work by Reece Lyne and Niall Evalds to put England 20-0 ahead. He wasn’t perfect, but he played with enthusiasm and led by example.

I certainly thought that Bateman was a more successful appointment than his French equivalent, Tony Gigot. Gigot is an immensely talented but erratic player for whom the captaincy appeared to be a burden early in the game, when the French were really struggling. His kick-off straight into touch led directly to England’s third try and that sort of incident would surely sap any player’s confidence.

Having said that, sometimes you can judge how a game is going to go by what happens very early on.

In this case, France allowed the kick-off to bounce dead and they were immediately under pressure.

Their problems were compounded by a penalty awarded for a high tackle on Morgan Knowles by Romain Navarrete with less than a minute gone and then they were lucky to escape when the video-referee Robert Hicks reversed a decision to award a try to England after just two minutes, ruling that Mark Kheirallah had grounded the ball first.

Nonetheless the floodgates were opening and England would touch down four times within 14 minutes, with the French defence looking particularly weak on their right-hand side.

In their matchday 17 the French had eight players from Toulouse and, with great respect to them, the jump from Championship to international Rugby League was a difficult step to take, even though they did adjust to it when it was too late to affect the result.

Tom Davies’ try in the right corner to put England 10-0 up was an absolute beauty, as he dived to touch down, somehow managing to avoid going into touch and cleverly transferring the ball into his left hand to allow him to squeeze the ball just inside the corner post for the score.

It was a shame that in the second half he slightly blotted his copybook by dropping the ball when he should have scored early in the second half.

After the game Shaun Wane expressed some relief that the French had come back into the game to give England a genuine test.

How many of the England squad that played on Saturday will still be in the running to play for England in the World Cup next year is uncertain, once we add the injured players and the players from the NRL into the equation.

But I can’t help feeling that the French probably got more out of this game than England did, despite the scoreline.

If we allow for the opening 20 minutes, they looked like a genuine international team, despite their inexperience, and when they get some of their injured stars back again for next year’s tournament, like Benjamin Garcia, Julian Bousquet and Theo Fages, they will be able to take a step up from this performance.

Corentin le Cam was probably their standout player, scoring a try, making some bone-rattling tackles, especially on Jonny Lomax, and generally looking as though he will play for France for many years. His only mistake was to concede a penalty for obstruction that rubbed out Mark Kheirallah’s try claim.