England kept their European Championship hopes alive with a less than convincing victory over France last night. Ellery Hanley's patched-up team, beaten 18-16 in the championship opener in Wales a fortnight ago, did just enough to see off the French in a dour encounter at Gateshead.
Lacking nine players involved in the St Helens-Wigan cup replay and hit by the late withdrawal of Ikram Butt with flu, England lacked authority and cohesion against the spirited French.
Hanley's men led 14-8 at the break, thanks to tries from Paul Broadbent and Nick Pinkney, two of nine uncapped players, but it was only the boot of Deryck Fox that separated the sides. Fox kicked both conversions and added a penalty, but the French centre, Stephane Millet, was unable to improve tries from the threequarters, Jean-Marc Garcia and Frederic Banquet.
A Nigel Wright drop goal edged England into a 15-8 lead a minute into the second half, but Millet at last found the target with a 51st-minute penalty to cut the arrears. And, after Francis Cummins' 59th-minute try appeared to put England on the way to a clear-cut victory, France's influential scrum-half, Patrick Entat, who had a hand in both first half tries, produced a second touchdown for the Featherstone centre, Banquet. Millet's goal cut the gap to just three points.