The bigger tests are to come for England but as preparations for the World Cup go, this was about as perfect as it gets.
France are not on the level of Australia and New Zealand, the two sides who will pose the greatest threat to England’s hopes of lifting the World Cup on home soil this autumn. But as the fifth-best side in the world and the next best in the northern hemisphere behind England, they were certainly a test on the level the head coach, Craig Richards, would have wanted.
For large periods the visitors made this mid-season Test tough for the hosts in Warrington. However, the class England have throughout their star-studded spine proved too much for France at crucial junctures.
This Test was the start of what could be a groundbreaking six months for the women’s game in England. There is no doubting what victory in a home World Cup could do for a sport making encouraging strides forward. How heartening it must have been for England’s squad to see that a large portion of the crowd were youngsters, many of them girls, possibly in awe of the players who could become well-known names if success materialises.
There is no shortage of players to marvel at in this England team. That includes Courtney Winfield-Hill, the Australia-born Leeds captain and former Big Bash cricketer who made an assured debut after qualifying for England via the residency rule. She formed an effective pairing with her Rhinos teammate, Georgia Roche, to help England to a second victory in a week after success against Wales last time out.
France made things difficult in the opening exchanges, though. There was no shortage of spirit and endeavour from them and when the opening try came for England, it was against the run of play. It arrived courtesy of an inch-perfect pass from Roche that released Hollie Dodd, and the York forward stepped around two defenders to touch down and give Tara Stanley a simple conversion that made it 6-0.
That lead was quickly extended when Winfield-Hill and Jodie Cunningham combined to free Caitlin Beevers, who went down in the corner.
Stanley was wide with the conversion but she was on target three minutes later when the outstanding Amy Hardcastle cut through, showing too much speed for the covering defence to claim her 20th Test try. The St Helens centre is another England player who could end up being one of the most exciting to track at the World Cup.
France were rewarded for their efforts with a try on half‑time as Cristina Song Puche snuck over from dummy-half to deservedly put the visitors on the scoreboard.
Any notion of a comeback after half-time was quickly rebuked by England. They were ruthless for large periods of the second half and Hardcastle’s 21st international try in 21 games, after Winfield-Hill and Roche had combined to devastating effect, put them back in control.
Roche then scored the try her performance merited when she broke free and while France scored a second through Fanny Ramos, England finished with a flourish. Roche claimed her second after a superb ball from Cunningham before Fran Goldthorp rounded off the scoring in the final minute with her side’s seventh try.
The warm-ups are almost over and the real business is looming. On this display there are plenty of reasons for England supporters to be excited.
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