England warmed up for the Gillette Four Nations Series in encouraging fashion by overcoming gutsy France at Parc des Sports in Avignon.
The French, fielding close to the team that lost 38-18 to the England Knights seven days earlier, came up with a vastly-improved display to give England a useful run-out ahead of their game with Wales next Saturday.
But Steve McNamara’s side had too much class for their hosts and debutants Jack Reed, Rangi Chase and Chris Heighington all made valuable contributions.
McNamara will be irritated by the concession of two late tries that made the score closer than it ought to have been but, overall, there was much to savour about England’s performance, with Kevin Sinfield, Gareth Ellis and James Roby all enhancing their world-class status and Kirk Yeaman making an impressive return to the international scene.
Sinfield, who played the full 80 minutes, set the tone with a 40-20 kick in the first set of tackles to set up the position for Reed to get his winger Ryan Hall over for the first try after just 90 seconds.
Sinfield looked a likely try-scorer after smart off-loads from front rows James Graham and Jamie Peacock, but full-back Cyril Stacul came to the rescue with a last-ditch tackle.
A break from debutant centre Mathias Pala signalled danger and established the position from which captain Olivier Elima scored an equalising try, winning the race to Thomas Bosc’s grubber kick, with Bosc’s conversion edging France in front.
The visitors eventually weathered the storm and took a firm grip on the game with three tries in the last 11 minutes of the first half, with Chase at the heart of the fightback.
The New Zealand-born Castleford favourite combined with Sam Tomkins to get Yeaman over on 29 minutes and sent out a long pass to enable Yeaman to send his winger Tom Briscoe in.
The best try came just before the break when Sinfield got Graham charging into a hole in the French defence and he produced a delightful pass for Roby to touch down.
Sinfield’s second goal made it 20-6 at half-time and any prospect of a comeback by the French was ended when Briscoe grabbed his second try nine minutes into the second half.
England brought off Tomkins as a precaution after 50 minutes and replacement full-back Gareth Widdop quickly made his mark, breaking the first line of defence to release Reed, who swatted off two defenders.
Sinfield’s fourth goal opened up a 26-point lead but England relaxed their grip in the last 10 minutes.
Lively replacement hooker Eloi Pelissier darted over for a try and winger Vincent Duport easily rounded Widdop to add a second, with Bosc kicking his third goal.
France: Stacul, Vaccari, Baile, Pala, Duport, Bosc, Chisholm, Ferriol, Mounis, Casty, Elima, Gossard, Baitieri. Substitutes: Pelissier, Fakir, Simon, Raguin.
England: Tomkins, Hall, Reed, Yeaman, Briscoe, Sinfield, Chase, Peacock, Roby, Graham, Ellis, Westwood, Heighington. Substitutes: Widdop, Morley, Jones-Buchanan, Wilkin.
Referee: M Cecchin (Australia).