England v France an exercise in futility but there is no easy solution to big issue - James O'Brien comment

If Saturday's double-header in Warrington proved anything, it is that England are fighting a losing battle in their quest for a worthwhile mid-season hit-out.

The games against France were as depressing as they were predictable as England's women and men cruised to identical 64-0 wins at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.

An enthusiastic crowd of 8,422 did their best to make an occasion of it but the majority would have lost interest long before Danny Walker rounded off the scoring in the final minute of the second match.

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Aside from the Test debutants on show, few will store this double-header in the memory bank.

England's women were professional in their rout of an inexperienced French outfit but it was little more than an opposed training session.

In the second game, an England Knights team in all but name were similarly ruthless against Laurent Frayssinous' understrength side.

If IMG has an image in mind for reimagining rugby league, two international B teams playing different sports can't be it.

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The million-dollar question is: what can they or the RFL do about the plight of the international game?

England's post-match celebrations were muted. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)England's post-match celebrations were muted. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
England's post-match celebrations were muted. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Short of moving England to the Pacific Ocean, there isn't a favourable solution. Even then, Australia would find a way to get out of a mid-season Test.

Logistically, England can only play the home nations or France.

Given the strength of Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the French are regarded as the best option for a competitive international.

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There is an argument that France need regular games against England to improve but the facts suggest it is not a worthwhile exercise for either side.

England Women did not look back after Leah Burke's early try. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)England Women did not look back after Leah Burke's early try. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
England Women did not look back after Leah Burke's early try. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

The nations have faced each other eight times in the past decade and England have a perfect record with an aggregate 374-56 scoreline.

In the previous 10 years, England won all 10 meetings and scored 430 points to France's 92.

While the strength of the teams England fielded during those periods varied, there is little evidence to suggest France are catching up.

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Domestically, Catalans Dragons should be commended for developing a strong crop of French players but they were guilty of limiting Frayssinous' options, effectively making the mid-season international an exercise in futility.

George Williams races over to score. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)George Williams races over to score. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
George Williams races over to score. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Shaun Wane will be satisfied with the way his young team – featuring 13 Test debutants – went about their business as England took their first steps on the road to the 2025 World Cup.

But what can a coach truly learn about players in such a one-sided game?

England have routinely beaten France only to come unstuck against the top nations, a list that now includes Samoa after last year's World Cup semi-final.

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The RFL has looked outside the Test-playing nations for a solution without success.

The Exiles – a team made up of Super League's best overseas players, in theory – have come and gone twice in the summer era, initially from 2011 to 2013 before returning as the Combined Nations All Stars for the previous two mid-season matches.

While the concept itself is a good one, the fixture suffered from mass withdrawals to continue an eternal theme.

Ash Handley enjoyed a Test debut to remember. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)Ash Handley enjoyed a Test debut to remember. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)
Ash Handley enjoyed a Test debut to remember. (Photo: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

What are the other alternatives? England v England Knights, probables v possibles would be competitive but could be viewed as a glorified training session.

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Mention a return of the War of the Roses – a battle between the best players born in Yorkshire and Lancashire – and prepare to be shot down.

The fixture was revived in 2001 but fans didn't take to it and two years later it was back in the bin.

Would the rivalry stand a better chance in the social media age? We will probably never know.

When the alternative is England v France ad nauseam, it is an option worth exploring.

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Ask Ash Handley and he would fancy playing France every week.

The Leeds Rhinos winger enjoyed a memorable afternoon in Warrington to make it third time lucky on the international stage after missing out on a Great Britain debut and suffering a head injury two minutes into his first England outing.

Handley scored a hat-trick from George Williams assists and returned the favour as the pair combined like seasoned team-mates.

Harry Smith, Ethan Havard, Jake Wardle, Kai Pearce-Paul and Walker all marked their Test debuts with tries to round off a satisfying run-out for a team packed with 2025 World Cup hopefuls.

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Wane would have perhaps learned more from the week in camp as he begins to turn his attention to Tonga.

This autumn's three-Test series is a step in the right direction but the 12-year international calendar due to be released by the end of 2022 after several delays has yet to materialise.

England will always have end-of-season options, even if they are made to work to nail one down.

The same cannot be said of the women's team, whose autumn options are limited to beating France handsomely again or dishing out the same treatment to Wales.

As IMG prepares to redesign the calendar for 2024, the international game is the elephant in the room.

One thing is for sure, another mid-season England v France double-header would be a tough sell.

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