England Sweep Aside France In Avignon
Ryan Hall extended his record-breaking try haul for his country to help Wayne Bennett make a winning start as England head coach.
The blockbusting Leeds winger touched down twice before half-time at Parc des Sports in Avignon to take his tally to 28 tries in 28 appearances and put his side on their way to a 40-6 victory.
Bennett handed international debuts to five players; Jonny Lomax, Mark Percival, Luke Gale, Scott Taylor and Stefan Ratchford but England were made to work hard by a determined French side in the early stages.
France were unrecognisable from the side humbled 84-4 at Leigh 12 months ago as they provided Bennett's men with just the serious work-out they needed before taking on New Zealand in their Ladbrokes Four Nations opener in Huddersfield next Saturday.
A solid performance from a pack led superbly by debutant Taylor, laid the foundations for a workmanlike victory in which Gareth Widdop scored his 100th point for his country.
And, with skipper Sam Burgess set to return from suspension, along with Warrington front rower Chris Hill and up to five players from champions Wigan, Bennett could have a selection poser for next week.
It was clear the French were fired up when punches were thrown from all angles in the third minute after they took exception to a forearm from Mike Cooper into the face of Benjamin Garcia.
Tempers quickly cooled after both captains received a lecture from referee Phil Bentham and, as England made the early running, Hall was denied a try by video referee Robert Hicks and Taylor was held up over the line.
The French defended doggedly and, after a 40-20 kick from outstanding full-back Tony Gigot got them into a perfect attacking position, replacement hooker Eloi Pelissier caught England napping at a play-the-ball to open the scoring.
Gigot's conversion made it 6-0, much to the delight of the boisterous 14,276 crowd, as France eyed a first win over the English national side for 26 years.
However, full-back Jonny Lomax got Hall over for his first try on 25 minutes and Bennett's men went in front for the first time four minutes later when hooker Daryl Clark forced his way over from close range shortly after entering the action from the bench.
As France began to lose their discipline, England cashed in on a wealth of possession in the last six minutes of the first half, with Tom Burgess proving unstoppable as he romped over form 10 metres out and Hall taking Gareth Widdop's cut-out pass to score his second try.
With Widdop converting three of the tries, England were well in control at 22-6 at the break but the French were in no mood to throw in the towel and it took the visitors until the 68th minute to add to their score.
Kevin Brown, a second-half replacement for Luke Gale, marked his return from a six-year international exile by dummying his way over for England's fifth try and Bennett's men finished with a flourish, with winger Jermaine McGillvary scoring his first try for his country and Widdop running onto Brown's kick to wrap up the scoring with a converted try.
The only real disappointment for Bennett was the loss of acting captain James Graham with a head injury, the result of a dangerous late tackle, 10 minutes from the end and he will need a concussion assessment to prove his fitness ahead of the Kiwis game.
"He's a bit sick in there but the doctor say he should be okay," Bennett said about the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs prop.
About his England coaching debut, he continued: "I wasn't disappointed, I thought we handled it pretty well without blowing them away.
"I thought France tried really hard, they were really competitive and had good ball control.
"I was pretty pleased with all the new caps, I wasn't disappointed with anybody tonight.
"But it hasn't made my job of picking a side for next week tougher - I already had an idea of my team to face New Zealand anyway."
England: Jonny Lomax, Jermaine McGillvary, Kallum Watkins, Mark Percival, Ryan Hall, Gareth Widdop, Luke Gale, James Graham, Josh Hodgson, Scott Taylor, Elliott Whitehead, Mike Cooper, Tom Burgess.
Interchanges: George Burgess, Kevin Brown, Stefan Ratchford, Daryl Clark.
France: Tony Gigot, Mathias Pala, Benjamin Barcia, Vincent Duport, Olivier Arnaud, Stanislas Robin, William Barthau, Romaine Navarrete, Alrix Da Costa, Remi Casty, Mickael Simon, Benjamin Julien, Julian Bousquet.
Interchanges: Eloi Pelissier, Mickael Goudemand, Gadwin Springer, Kevin Larroyer
This article first appeared on EnglandRL