RUTHLESS England barely needed to get out of first gear as they inflicted a record win on an embarrassingly woeful France side this afternoon, Huddersfield Giants’ Brett Ferres scoring a hat-trick in the process.
As the tries continually rained down, 15 in total with Leeds Rhinos’ Ryan Hall, superb debutant John Bateman and James Roby all grabbing two each, it was hard to work out if any of it all was worthwhile for Steve McNamara’s squad.
It certainly left more question marks over the validity of France as international opponents; England would have been better served facing Leeds who gave New Zealand such a searching examination last night.
However, there is little they can do about that now and such matters are out of their hands regardless as they build up to their first Test opener against the Kiwis at Hull FC next Sunday.
It was painful to watch at times as England, fielding four debutants with Wigan’s George Williams and Joe Burgess among the scorers along with Bateman, proved far too strong and dynamic for their under-strength visitors.
They easily eclipsed their previous best scoreline against these opponents, a 73-6 win at Gateshead in 1996.
Such was the hosts’ dominance that France did not touch the ball in the second half until the 58th minute as England scored six tries in six successive sets.
Given Wigan’s Bateman, the former Bradford Bull who really impressed at centre, scored his second in final moments of the first half, that can read seven tries in seven sets; or 42 points scored with France failing to have any possession.
It is now 14 consecutive wins for England against them since their last defeat in 1981.
They were 18-0 up after just eight minutes.
Watkins mopped up after Benjamin Julien spilled Gareth Widdop’s high kick and, when, the French centre then spilled a pass, the hosts crossed again as former Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson scored his first international try far too easily from dummy-half.’
Straight from the re-start, Widdop’s pass sent Liam Farrell surging clear allowing Bateman, his Wigan team-mate, to advance and cleverly dummy French full-back Morgan Escare.
Widdop improved all three but when Farrell’s wayward pass found touch, France grasped their chance with Olivier Arnaud diving in at the corner in the 11th minute.
It would be their only opportunity of the half, however, and England hit straight back when Sean O’Loughlin palmed back Zak Hardaker’s towering re-start kick setting up position for a well-crafted move near the French goalline that resulted in Farrell hitting through a gap for their fourth try of the afternoon.
After his earlier error, England barely made another mistake in the first period and, though, the visitors’ defence finally found some steel to hold up both Watkins and Tom Burges over their line, it was still one-way traffic.
Roby, Farrell and Bateman combined smartly to put Hall over for his first and then came that stunning spell at the start of the second period.
Tom Burgess barged over, then set up Ferres for his first, before Williams’ break and lovely flick pass to Watkins saw Joe Burgess provide for Roby.
Williams, the Super League Young Player of the Year who impressed at scrum-half, earned a debut try from Widdop’s break before Roby added his second.
Ferres got another and then Bateman showed his class with a great pass for Hall’s second before Leeds full-back Hardaker - the Man of Steel who, bizarrely, didn’t get in on the act - set up Joe Burgess for his second before Williams rounded things off, Widdop finishing with 12 goals.
England: Hardaker; J Burgess, Watkins, Bateman, Hall; Widdop, Williams; Graham, Hodgson, Hill, Whitehead, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Roby, T Burgess, Cooper, Ferres.
France: Escare; Sigismeau, Baile, Jullien, Arnaud; Robin, Marginet; Bousquet, Boudebza, Maria, Larroyer, Perez, Simon. Substitutes: Kriouache, Springer, Boyer, Goudemand.
Referee: James Child (England)