England are through to the 2017 Rugby League World Cup quarter-finals and will face Papua New Guinea after defeating France 36-6 in Perth.
At a warm Perth Rectangular Stadium England followed up its 19-point victory over Lebanon last weekend in Sydney with a convincing seven-try win against the French.
The result means they finish second in Group A, behind Australia, and meet the Kumuls in Melbourne on 19 November.
Despite the result England coach Wayne Bennett was disappointed with how his team failed to go on with its electric first half, where it racked up 26 points, in the second period.
“It was the same result as last week really,” he said.
“We scored six points last week and 12 points this week (in the second half) after laying a really good foundation. It’s not a concern yet. I don’t want to take away from France’s effort, I’m just talking about our effort. The second half wasn’t as good as the first half.”
Bennett stressed England’s problem of staying focused can be fixed, but maintained he is not looking past the quarter-final stage.
“The road ahead for us is going to be short if we don’t get these two halves of football right,” he said.
“My major concern is us right now. I’m not thinking much further than getting through today and we got through it with no injuries, which is good.
“We may have not have anymore time to get it right. It’s not something that’s going to take a lot of research and a lot of effort to get it right. It’s going to take a bit of discipline and appreciate what gave you the 26 points in the first place.”
It was an explosive start for England with Gareth Widdop, in the unusual position of full-back, crossing after just two minutes. Kevin Brown found Luke Gale and the half-back’s cut-out pass released Widdop, who dummied and glided over easily.
England were almost in again only three minutes later, but referee Phil Bentham got in the way of Gale after French fullback Mark Kheirallah spilled Brown’s bomb. However, from the next set Stefan Ratchford dived over in the corner to make it 10-0.
The free-scoring continued in the ninth minute when James Graham powered through some feeble French defence and Widdop nailed his third consecutive conversion.
England’s crisp passing and fast ball movement was too hot for Les Tricolores to handle. France managed to keep them out for 14 minutes and then Mark Percival touched down to take the lead to 22-0.
The new-look spine of Widdop, Gale, Brown and James Roby was combining perfectly, giving Bennett some serious thinking to do ahead of next week’s quarter-final. Centre Percival, making his World Cup debut, also pressed his selection claims with a try.
John Bateman got England’s fifth four-pointer, crashing past some weak tackling on the left edge in the 29th minute. But France hit back five minutes later, Benjamin Garcia finding England napping between the posts to sneak through and make it 26-6 at the break.
Normal service resumed in the second half with Widdop putting Jermaine McGillvary over barely a minute after the interval.
France continued to be their own worst enemy, coughing up the ball and failing to stop England’s quick play-the-balls.
Les Tricolores half-back Lucas Albert got over the line in the 57th minute, after Graham’s loose carry, but the try was ruled out because of a forward pass.
Errors started to creep into England’s attack as the humidity and the attritional nature of the contest took effect.
With sixteen minutes left McGillvary got his brace, after Brown passed to Mike McMeeken and the forward found the winger in space. It was McGillvary’s ninth try in his past nine Tests for his country.
Bennett continued to rotate his men and experiment with positions in the final stages, taking McGillvary off and moving Percival to the wing and George Williams into the centres.
France coach Aurelien Cologni was a frustrated man after the match.
“We started fairly bad, our completion was too poor,” he said.
“The effort was there and we reacted after 15 or 20 minutes but that's too late. We finished very strong , we showed good spirit and I appreciate that. They gave the maximum to the end.”
In the earlier match in Perth Wales finished its dismal World Cup campaign with a third heavy defeat in a row, going down 34-6 to Ireland.
The Irish claimed its second victory from three games down under, but are also headed home, with their loss to Papua New Guinea costing them place in the quarter-finals against England.
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