ENGLAND’S WORLD Cup quarter-final against France was more of the same as they impressed in patches, but failed to sustain a high level of performance.
As against Ireland and Fiji, a 20-minute spell of good rugby was enough to see England through, but they need to find a massive improvement this week.
The 34-6 quarter-final success at Wigan’s DW Stadium secured a semi-final spot at Wembley in five days’ time, but a similar display will not be enough to see off holders New Zealand.
England have the weapons to beat both New Zealand and Australia in a one-off match, but – frustratingly – the big guns have developed a habit of running out of ammunition.
The hosts had had the edges over France, with both wing-centre pairings combining particularly well on attack.
Ryan Hall went into the quarter-final having scored three times as many touchdowns in the tournament as France had in total.
Hall bagged a brace to take his tally to eight in four games and Josh Charnley – on the other flank – justified his recall at Tom Briscoe’s expense with a similar total. Charnley’s centre, Leeds man Kallum Watkins – with his left leg heavily strapped – was strong with ball in hand and defended solidly, but had a couple of problems under the high ball, which Kiwi halves Kieran Foran and Shaun Johnson will have noted.
One of the biggest talking points was England boss Steve McNamara’s decision to drop Rob Burrow, after he had made a game-turning impact off the bench in the win over Fiji seven days earlier.
Michael McIlorum retained his place at hooker with James Roby coming off the bench. That was harsh on the Leeds man and – as he is one of the players with the ability to cause the Kiwis problems – it was hard to fathom the coach’s thinking.
England looked sharper when Roby came on and the option of him starting, with Burrow among the substitutes, should be the way to go.
New Zealand will be a totally different proposition to France, who were lucky to get through to the quarter-finals.
After a one-point win over Papua New Guinea – who missed a simple penalty late on – and heavy defeats to the Kiwis and Samoa they actually put up a better show than expected, despite losing Kane Bentley and Vincent Duport to injury in the opening quarter.
Bentley was hurt in the first set, but that didn’t stop them taking a shock third-minute lead when Duport powered through some poor defence from Sebastien Raguin’s quality offload.
England got level within seven minutes with a try direct from a scrum, when Sam Tomkins’ pass put Charnley over for his 45th try of the year, after James Graham and Sinfield had also handled. The latter landed the first of his five conversions, a couple of them coming off the touchline.
Hall bolted over from Tomkins’ pass after 19 minutes and added another on 29 from the impressive Leroy Cudjoe’s pass, soon after Watkins had displayed strength and skill to put Charnley in for his second.
At 22-6 England had the job just about done at the interval, but they would have expected to kick on in the second half.
Instead the game, not helped by too much whistle from referee Ashley Klein, got scrappy and England weren’t able to dominate the way they should have done. France showed a great deal of spirit, though they didn’t really threaten to add to their score. The closest they came was a break by Damen Cardace.
He was hauled down by Tomkins, but the full-back held on too long and was sin-binned for a professional foul. That was seven minutes from time, so Tomkins ended his final game at DW Stadium sitting on the bench.
Even so, he was named man of the match in the official press vote, though both Sean O’Loughlin and James Graham were more deserving.
Hall and Cudjoe were involved in England’s first try of the second half, on 47 minutes, when the former batted the ball back from Rangi Chase’s kick and the latter’s pass put O’Loughlin in. Chase provided the pass for Brett Ferres to complete the try scoring late on.
England: Tomkins, Charnley, Watkins, Cudjoe, Hall, Chase, Sinfield, Graham, McIlorum, Hill, S Burgess, Westwood, O’Loughlin. Subs (all used) Roby G Burgess, Ferres, Farrell.
France: Escare, Cardace, Baile, Duport, Greenshields, Bosc, Barthau, Fakir, K Bentley, Casty, Elima, Raguin, Mounis. Subs (all used) Pelissier, Khattabi, Maria, Simon.
Referee: Ashley Klein (Australia).