For all their criticism, and there’s been plenty of it, this was a much better display from England, who produced a fluent attacking performance to hammer France 36-6 in Perth.
And the man largely responsible for the change in offensive fortunes, the saviour for their much improved shape and direction? Kevin Brown. Yes Kevin Brown. The Warrington half back was heavily involved and whilst perspective must be put into place given the low quality of opposition, he was superb. He had a hand in everything good England did, and outshined the misfiring Luke Gale, who has been largely anonymous since showing his stitches to the Sky Sports cameras at the end of September.
Coach Wayne Bennett set his side up to play here, and it was refreshing to watch. So credit where credit is due, but we must replicate this ideology against Papua New Guinea in the quarter-final next week. One up robotic rugby will not get us far, but chancing our arm by playing to the edges will. This was good stuff. England’s shape was excellent, and they promoted the ball across the field at every opportunity, stretching France, who couldn’t withstand the attacking prominence from their opposition.
The French side, largely made up of Catalans players, grew into the game the more it prolonged, which evened the contest up. England though always had that extra bit of quality, with the talented Gareth Widdop in particular shining from fullback, a position he is familiar with from his Melbourne days. Alongside Brown, the two pivots moved the ball well, though it must be said off another impeccable display from hooker James Roby.
The in-form number nine was sensational in the latter stages of the Super League season, and deserves an England starting place on merit. That may upset a few people in East Hull, but on the evidence we’ve seen so far in the tournament, and especially against Australia, Roby was, and remains our best option at dummy half.
It wouldn’t be an England report though without a few rants, so here goes. There’s still a couple of things to rectify, like playing centres in the centre positions. Mark Percival got his first opportunity and didn’t disappoint, but will likely sit out next week in favour of a back rower. Then there’s the forwards, and we all know Scott Taylor will be dropped for a 35-year-old Australian-born Aussie in the knockouts. Shame.
But back on the positivity train, this was a good performance. England made full use of the ball in the first half and were 18-0 up inside ten minutes. Widdop got the first try with a direct run, before Stefan Ratchford grounded a second, and after James Graham, who was sensational again, crossed over things were looking ominous for the French.
England didn’t take their foot off the gas either, compounding France’s woes, as a left to right shift put Percival over. John Bateman then crossed for a fifth try, though France finally hit back as Benjamin Garcia, formerly of NRL side Penrith Panthers, scooted over from dummy half.
Taylor, who finally got his first taste of World Cup action, had his moments, and defended well alongside the likes of Alex Walmsley. They forced the error, and on the back of that the Brown / Widdop combination clicked again as impressive winger Jermaine McGillvary scored for the third game in a row. What a talent he is.
England got a little bit scrappy towards the latter stages, but given the game was comfortably won, it wasn’t a travesty. Still though that will frustrate Bennett, as it’s happened for the second week in a row. Luckily though the Wall of White clicked again, with a slick pass from Mike McMeeken finding McGillvary for his second try.
Graham then got into a minor scuffle, as more errors followed, but amongst the watching Sam Burgess, who will be fit and ready to go again next week, things are finally looking up for the England side.
France Starting XIII: 1. Mark Kheirallah, 2. Fouad Yaha, 3. Bastien Adler, 12. Benjamin Jullien, 5. Ilias Bergal, 6. Theo Fages, 7. Lucas Albert, 16. Maxime Herold, 9. John Boudebza, 8. Antoni Maria, 11. Benjamin Garcia, 10. Julian Bousquet, 13. Jason Baitieri. Interchange: 14. Romain Navarrete, 15. Thiabault Margalet, 19. Michael Rouch, 20. Nabil Djalout.
France Tries: Garcia. Goals: Albert 1/1
England Starting XIII: 1. Gareth Widdop, 2. Stefan Ratchford, 3. John Bateman, 4. Mark Percival, 5. Jermaine McGillvary, 6. Kevin Brown, 7. Luke Gale, 8. Chris Hill, 9. James Roby, 10. James Graham, 11. Ben Currie, 12. Mike McMeeken, 13. Sean O’Loughlin. Interchange: 14. Alex Walmsley, 15. Thomas Burgess, 16. Scott Taylor, 17. George Williams.
England Tries: Widdop, Ratchford, Graham, Percival, Bateman, McGillvary 2. Goals: Widdop 4/7
Scoring System: 0-6, 0-12, 0-18, 0-22, 0-26, 6-26, 6-32, 6-36
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