Reminding us of what might have been

League Express editor MARTYN SADLER reflects on an outstanding performance by England on Saturday.

I WONDER what odds we might have got from Betfred if we had predicted that both the two internationals played on Saturday would end up with the same 64-0 scoreline?

It was almost as though the women set a target for the men to aim at in the second game – and they succeeded brilliantly in reaching it.

The only difference was that the England women scored twelve tries, compared to the men’s eleven, while Leah Burke scored four tries for the women, as opposed to the three each for George Williams and Ash Handley for the men.

Having said that, and having revelled in a high-quality England performance in both games, I always find it difficult to watch a game against France without a feeling of ambivalence.

Naturally I want to see England play well, but in some respects, I want to see France play well even more.

Like anyone with a genuine love of the game, I want to see France giving us a game, and perhaps even winning occasionally.

On Saturday afternoon, there is no doubt that England played well, racing to a 36-0 half-time scoreline and looking as sharp as I’ve seen an England team look for a long time.
It reminded me of England’s opening game in the World Cup when we defeated Samoa 60-6.

And it makes it even harder to accept that we then went out to Samoa at the semi-final stage. What a misleading scoreline that first World Cup game presented us with!

On Saturday, England started well, with Harry Smith’s kick forcing a goal-line drop-out and then George Williams’ short kick over the French defence into the in-goal allowing Ash Handley to touch down for a try that looked deceptively simple.

Shortly after that, another Williams kick won a second goal-line drop-out and already we suspected it was going to be a long afternoon for the French team.

However, those feelings were dispersed a little when Mathieu Laguerre made a great tackle on Jack Welsby on the sixth tackle, giving the French possession. And shortly afterwards Cesar Rougé kicked a 40/20 and we wondered whether we were going to see the French really giving England a game.

Unfortunately for the French, however, they conceded a set restart in the 19th minute and from that moment England took complete command, scoring their second try 30 seconds later when Jake Wardle, who had crashed into the advertising hoardings a couple of minutes earlier with Matty Ashton when chasing a Williams kick, broke down the left and passed inside to Harry Smith for the halfback to touch down.

That try seemed to take some of the spirit out of the French players and it allowed England to touch down with four more tries before the interval.

The highlight of the game for me was undoubtedly England’s pinpoint kicking game, with Williams clearly being the kingpin, while being well supported by both Harry Smith and Danny Walker, with the latter kicking an outstanding 40/20 in the 31st minute that led to Wardle’s try.

With the interval score 36-0, it was simply a matter of how many England would score in the second half and whether they would keep a clean sheet.

Given the limited time England had to prepare for this game and the number of debutants in the team, it’s hard not to conclude that Shaun Wane and his coaching team did a terrific job and it surely makes us look forward to the autumn series against the Tongans.

Shaun was clearly devastated by England’s World Cup semi-final defeat, as were many England supporters, and the Tongan tour gives him and the team an opportunity to make amends to some degree, while preparing the squad for the next World Cup in 30 months’ time.

There were no players whose performances could be criticised, while bearing in mind the quality of the opposition, with the French having suffered the withdrawal of some of their leading players, including their captain, Benjamin Garcia.

But when we consider who wasn’t playing (with seven of the eight St Helens players who were selected in the original 40-man squad not being in the final 19, for various reasons), as well as the England players currently featuring in the NRL, we can clearly conclude that we have a real chance of doing well in the next World Cup and that the Tongan Test series will be a massive milestone on the journey to hopefully winning the tournament.

And it’s now for those players who were in the squad on Saturday to retain their places in the squad for this autumn’s series.

Meanwhile, the French will play their part in this autumn’s European Cup competition, where they are likely to come up against the England Knights.

Let’s hope they can run up some decent results in that competition.

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