IT was no great shock Jamie Jones-Buchanan delivered an expression of genuine surprise when asked about his 300th career appearance.
He had not even known this comfortable win over the French had marked that significant achievement but the Leeds Rhinos forward has never really been one for personal accolades.
All true grit and industry, seemingly perpetually in motion, Jones-Buchanan is instead more about the team, one of those players who rarely gets the headlines but is consistently a coach’s dream and also incredibly versatile.
It is probably why, despite England’s vast riches in the back-row, the 31 year-old will eventually make Steve McNamara’s 2013 World Cup squad.
An intriguing poser for the manager, though, must be which of his talented second-rows he will start with alongside Gareth Ellis when it comes to that main business next season.
Man of Steel nominee Ben Westwood – sidelined from this international series following surgery – plus Gareth Hock are the obvious contenders but the latter did not seem so convincing on Saturday afternoon as England followed up their 80-12 victory against Wales with another one-sided affair.
Whichever BBC pundit named the Wigan forward man-of-the-match must have dozed through the first half when he made four handling errors alone.
That aspect of Hock’s game improved after the break only for his discipline to wane instead. Perhaps news of his potential move to Parramatta Eels, which broke last week, put him off kilter slightly.
Undoubtedly, on his day, Hock is frighteningly dangerous and he did come up with some telling off-loads but a more worthy candidate for the match’s star turn would certainly have been Jones-Buchanan.
He had switched to loose forward to replace the injured Sean O’Loughlin, who is 50/50 to be fit in time for Sunday’s final, a rematch between these two sides at Salford.
Speaking to the Yorkshire Post, Jones-Buchanan admitted: “I do love playing at loose.
“It’s my favourite position. It’s a bit like back-row but you’re able to run around all over the pitch, link up and get involved more.
“I’m a bit of a grafter, nothing flashy and I just get on there, do some hard graft and try to intermingle but I really enjoyed that,” he said. “France were physical but the lads worked hard for each other, especially in defence.
“I think where we probably let ourselves down a little bit was in offense but a lot of that’s down to being over-keen and not being so settled. We started off a little too excitedly, lost a few balls that we didn’t need to and we just probably need to be a little bit patient.
“When we’ve got that fluency and smartness about us we play some good rugby.”
Leeds colleague Kallum Watkins completed his hat-trick with a late interception while Sam Tomkins’s double saw him become England’s all-time leading try-scorer – 14 in as many games – breaking Alf Ellaby’s 77-year-old record.
Wigan’s Josh Charnley notched four on debut in Wales a week earlier but it was not enough to keep his place here, McNamara examining another conundrum by recalling Tom Briscoe, the excellent Hull FC wing who duly scored twice himself.
Jones-Buchanan’s 50-metre charge led to Kevin Sinfield neatly stepping over, the captain also adding six goals, but the hosts were too over-elaborate at times and should really have pressed home their advantage, especially as France had lost three players to injury by the hour mark, Gregory Mounis and Kevin Larroyer joining Cyril Stacul on the sidelines.
Stacul had departed after just 14 minutes when he was caught high by Ellis, the French management believing the Hull FC signing should have received a sterner punishment than merely being put on report.
He should find out today whether he will be banned for the final.
Admittedly, England did defend their line well when France, courtesy of a penalty count stacked heavily in their favour, had a glut of second-half possession, Kane Bentley only finally breaking them in the 72nd minute.
But it was, again, another encounter where McNamara will have learned little about his charges in preparation for 12 months time.
Jones-Buchanan, meanwhile, knows he has a fight on to retain his position for that tournament with Sam Burgess, Jon Wilkin and Danny Tickle all yet to come back into the frame plus, of course, Westwood. But his sheer work-rate and ability to operate throughout the pack means the six-time Grand Final winner, who made his professional debut for Leeds in 1999, has plenty in his favour.
“There are a lot of lads who couldn’t play this year because they’re having clear-outs (operations) and getting injuries sorted,” he conceded. “I am a bit of a stop-gap. I’ve played in the middle, prop and back-row but that is probably something that goes for me a little. I don’t mind playing anywhere. Whatever position I’m fortunate enough to play in for my country I’m always appreciative.
“I’d love to be able to play in another World Cup. It’s something I really aspire to do but I know I’ll have to lift my game 10 or 15 per cent next year and probably play the best rugby I ever have.
“But there’s no reason why I cant do that with a few sacrifices and a bit of hard work.”
On that milestone, he added: “I didn’t realise at all. One of my goals was to play 300 games for Leeds and I know I’m on 280-odd but I’d not really thought about 300 professional games.
“It’s really nice. I suppose you can call that a fairly solid career and I’m glad to have got there.”
England: Tomkins; Hall, Watkins, Cudjoe, Briscoe; Sinfield, Myler; Mossop, McIlorum, Hill, Ellis Hock, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Burrow, Harrison, Ablett, Morley.
France: Stacul; Cardace, Pala, Duport, Soubeyras; Bosc, Barthau; Elima, Bentley, Casty, Larroyer, Baitieri, Mounis. Substitutes: Pellisier, Griffi, Bemba, Simon.
Referee: Shane Rehm (New Zealand).