Read a full match report of the Rugby League World Cup quarter-final between England and France at the DW Stadium on Saturday, November 16, 2013.
England booked their place in the World Cup semi-final against New Zealand at Wembley next Saturday but the holders will hardly be losing sleep at the prospect.
Four tries in 17 first-half minutes promised much but it ended up being a mere appetiser and the feast never materialised. Yes, it was a win and they defended with enthusiasm, but both that and the attack will need to be considerably better against the Kiwis.
England coach Steve McNamara said: “We were very scratchy and really disappointing. We have done enough to win the game and make the scoreboard look respectable but we were way down on what we would expect. The amount of errors we made, particularly in the second half, was extraordinary.”
Man of the match Sam Tomkins echoed the concern, saying: “We are going to have to play better than that next week. We played good in patches but we knew the game was won and went a bit sloppy. There are areas to improve if we are going to beat the Kiwis.”
England and France met in a mid-season game between 2008 and 2010 but England cancelled the fixture after that because they did not think the French were giving them a tough enough game.
The French were annoyed at the slight and showed just how keen they were to exact some revenge by stunning England with a lightning fast start which was rewarded with a fourth-minute try from centre Vincent Duport, converted by Thomas Bosc. For a country that had only scored 14 points in their three group games, it was an impressive opening.
It was the equivalent, however, of tweaking the tiger’s tail because England quickly woke from their early sluggishness and responded with four tries in 17 minutes, three of them converted by Kevin Sinfield, to race into a 22-6 lead.
Winger Josh Charnley, selected ahead of Tom Briscoe who had played the previous two games, repaid the faith McNamara had shown in him by touching down twice, taking his tally to 44 for the season.
Scrum-half and captain Sinfield helped create both, linking up with Tomkins for the first, with Tomkins putting out a terrific pass for Charnley, and then with centre Kallum Watkins for the second.
Charnley’s opposite winger Ryan Hall was well adrift of Super League’s top try scorer in the regular season but the Leeds man is on fire in the World Cup and his two first-half tries made him the tournament’s leading scorer on seven.
Tomkins, playing his last game on his home Wigan ground before his world record move to New Zealand Warriors, was revelling in the space he was finding and sent out a pinpoint pass for England’s record try scorer to run in unchallenged at the corner. Hall’s 21st England try in 19 games came courtesy of a pass from centre Leroy Cudjoe as England started to chance their arm. France, who scraped into the quarter-finals thanks to a one-point win over Papua New Guinea, regularly created the numbers on the edges but failed to find the finishing touches and also let themselves down by conceding far too many penalties with their ill-discipline.
Sebastian Raguin was denied a try by a solid tackle from Watkins, while exciting young full back Morgan Escare – one of numerous Catalan Dragons players in the line-up – wasted another good try scoring chance by failing to take a catch with the line at his mercy.
France’s pressure and inability to score will give England confidence in their own defence but from an attacking point of view their game definitely left a lot to be desired after the first half four-try purple patch, with France frustrating them for much of the second.
England managed just two more tries, the first in the 47th minute, Hall doing well to palm back a Rangi Chase kick, with loose-forward Sean O’Loughlin touching down and Sinfield adding his fourth conversion. It then took England until the 77th minute to clock up their next try, Brett Ferres grabbing his third in four appearances.
Tomkins was deservedly voted man of the match but his DW Stadium swansong ended earlier than expected when he was sin-binned for a professional foul in the 74th minute.
France coach Richard Agar said: “We pulled them apart a few times but we were not good enough to finish them off. Pride and courage can only take you so far.”