England vs France match report: Anthony Watson leads the charge as dazzling wingers secure victory

England 19 France 14

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England’s World Cup build-up started with long-awaited match action after a summer of training, three tries shared between the irrepressible wings Anthony Watson and Jonny May and victory by a small margin in the first of three warm-up games.

An England team much more recognisable as the first choice will have a Paris rematch with the French next Saturday before the phoney war is completed against Ireland back here on 5 September. By then the 31-man squad for the main event kicking on 18 September will be known, and the selection conjecture over.

Of the 39 players in England’s training squad, the biggest will he, won’t he buzz has surrounded Sam Burgess, one of three Test debutants in the run-on XV last night, though of course the giant Yorkshireman has oodles of caps from his rugby league days. Common rugby sense suggested his union World Cup bid might end here, barring an irresistible performance of leadership and sleight-of-hand in addition to his obvious physical attributes. Burgess is a burgeoning flanker in his club Bath’s opinion, and indeed his own, so it would be controversial for him to be picked by head coach Stuart Lancaster ahead of the already culled midfielders Kyle Eastmond and Elliot Daly, and maybe Billy Twelvetrees and Henry Slade too.


Owen Farrell slots a conversion (Getty)

With a sense of timing, certainly, Burgess unleashed one of the belligerent heavy collisions he brought over from the 13-man code in the opening seconds, on France’s captain Dimitri Szarzewski, to a great roar around the two-thirds full stadium. There would be another, more borderline effort, on Alexandre Dumoulin, before half-time. But he also picked up a silly sin-bin yellow card for a pull-back as Morgan Parra tapped a 35-minute penalty.

France kept attacking after the Szarzewski bone-shaker, nevertheless, and twice made Jonny May scurry backwards on England’s left wing; once to get fingertips to the ball just before Sofiane Guitoune got there, and another less dangerous while a penalty advantage was being played. Parra, a wise bird in a French line-up of similarly mixed strength to England’s, kicked the goal and France led 3-0.

Ben Morgan was making his first England appearance since he broke a leg in January and the No.8 rumbled off a line-out drive in the 12th minute, occupying defenders to help Slade – another of the debutants, with subtler playmaking skills than Burgess – to slip a sharp pass to Anthony Watson. The Bath wing skipped in to score his third Test try on his 10th cap, converted by Owen Farrell.

Within seven minutes, Watson had another, to emphasise his status among maybe only two or three nailed-on World Cup starters on view. Burgess carried in midfield, Slade looped round and May, working away from his wing, made a burst and a lovely offload to Watson for a straight sprint to the right corner and a 12-3 England lead.

The Farrell-Burgess-Slade combo was striking some decent notes but the home scrum was less happy, conceding two penalties kicked by Parra to make it 12-9 at the break.

Calum Clark strove on his first cap to frighten the French at close quarters in his role as the rested captain Chris Robshaw’s stand-in, but the back row was an area where France had not travelled light. When Clark, the Northampton Saint with an unholy disciplinary history, was sin-binned for dangerously tackling Gullhem Guirado out of a ruck in the 56th minute, it was a black mark that might leave an indelible stain.


Jonny May scores England’s third and final try at Twickenham (PA)

In the wide open spaces, though, England had continued to prosper. Still playing with 14 men while Burgess was off, Slade’s delightful flicked pass kept a move going until Alex Goode, allowed to pick his moment, dropped a diagonal kick into May’s lap for an easy run-in followed by Farrell’s conversion on 45 minutes.

Intriguingly in the selection stakes, England sent fly-half Danny Cipriani on for Goode at full-back; covering more than one position could be the way in for Slade or Cipriani.

Short of numbers in Clark’s absence, England conceded a forwards’ try to Fulgence Ouedraogo. Rory Kockott, on for Parra, missed the conversion, and Slade’s withdrawal left Burgess to see things through.

After losing his place during the Six Nations, May had impressed Lancaster in training. In the 70th minute the leggy Gloucester wing chased a second try fromn a boot downfield by Danny Care, only for TV replays to show Rémi Lamerat had already shepherded the ball into touch.

England: A Goode (D Cipriani, 50); A Watson, H Slade (B Twelvetrees, 66), S Burgess, J May; O Farrell, R Wigglesworth (D Care, 50); M Vunipola (A Corbisiero, 64), R Webber (L Cowan-Dickie, 56), K Brookes (D Wilson, 56), G Kruis, G Parling (D Attwood, 56), T Wood (capt), C Clark, B Morgan (J Haskell, 41).

France: S Spedding; S Guitoune, R Lamerat, A Dumoulin, B Dulin (G Fickou, 20-30); F Trinh-Duc (R Tales, 61), M Parra (R Kockott, 61); V Debaty (X Chiocci, 53), D Szarzewski (capt; G Guirado, 53), N Mas (U Antonio, 51), A Flanquart, Y Maestri (S Vahaamhina, 66), Y Nyanga (L Goujon, 56), F Ouedraogo, L Picamoles.

Referee: J Lacey (Ireland)