England demonstrated their Rugby League World Cup credentials with a comprehensive 42-18 victory over France on Saturday.
Shaun Wane’s side followed up their opening weekend win over Samoa in style, and are now odds on with Betway to progress to the final.
Winger Ryan Hall set England on their way with two early tries, before Luke Thompson added a third to put them in control of the game.
France refused to lie down and fought back to go in at the break trailing 18-12. However, England stepped things up in the second half in devastating fashion.
Dominic Young (2), Elliott Whitehead and Victor Radley got their names on the scoresheet to complete an impressive victory for the host nation.
While Australia remain the favourites to win the world title, France coach Laurent Frayssinous believes England can get their hands on the trophy.
“They have a massive pack of forwards, their back five could be the best in the comp,” he said. “Tommy Makinson didn’t play tonight – and in their spine they have experienced and quality players,”
“I am sure they will challenge Australia and New Zealand and will be able to beat them. They definitely can win the World Cup.”
Although England eventually romped home, Wane was unhappy that his players allowed France back into the game in the first half.
The 58-year-old gave his team a pep talk at the break, and they responded impressively to sweep France aside in the second 40 minutes.
“I wasn’t angry,” insisted Wane. “I just knew we could do better.
“I was frustrated because I thought in the first 20 minutes we were outstanding and in the second 20 we slightly went away from it but I don’t want to talk the French down.
“I thought the French were good, they challenged us. We knew after the highs of last week, it wasn’t going to be plain sailing but overall I’m happy to win a Test match and score 40 points but I know how much we can improve.”
England face Greece in their final group game in Sheffield next Saturday and should have little difficult securing another victory.
Things will get tougher from the quarter-finals onwards, with several talented southern hemisphere teams lying in wait in the knockout phase.
Papua New Guinea are their most likely opponents in the last eight, while Tonga or Samoa are fancied to make it through to the semi-finals.
If England make it to the final they are expected to meet either Australia or New Zealand, both of whom are unbeaten in the tournament to date.
The southern hemisphere giants have won 12 world titles between them, with Great Britain (3) the only other team to get their name on the roll of honour.
Australia have featured in 14 of the 15 finals that have been staged, lifting the trophy on 11 occasions, while New Zealand claimed the title in 2008.
England have reached the final three times (1975, 1995 & 2017) and also featured in three other semi-finals (2000, 2008 & 2017).
They were arguably unfortunate not to break their duck five years ago, succumbing to a narrow 6-0 defeat against Australia in Brisbane.
Boyd Cordner bagged the only try of the game, while England spurned several excellent chances to get themselves on the scoresheet.
Having produced two excellent performances at the start of this year’s tournament, England will believe they can finally end Australia’s dominance at international level.
Plenty of pundits have been talking up England’s chances of winning the World Cup over the past couple of weeks, and the early signs have been promising.
Former captain Jamie Peacock gave his backing to the team in the run-up to the tournament and highlighted why they could topple Australia this year.
Peacock played for England at the World Cup in 2008 and 2008, so is well placed to comment on the challenge faced by the current crop of players.
He believes the Kangaroos are still the team to beat, but thinks their squad is not as talented as was previously the case.
“There’s a huge challenge for them this year with the decision of a lot of players with Polynesian heritage not to play for Australia,” said Peacock.
“That means Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand are all realistic winners along with Australia, who I don’t think will be as dominant. They’ve been the most ruthless team that consistently deliver excellence.
“The team from between 2006 and 2017 had five immortals in it – Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith, Jonathan Thurston, Greg Inglis and Cooper Cronk – and that level of player is not in the Australian squad at the moment.”
Australia’s status as the best international team in the world has been fuelled by the massive growth enjoyed by their domestic league during the 21st century.
It was not too long ago that the Super League and NRL were on a par with each other, but the Australian league has romped ahead in recent years.
Australian teams have dominated the World Club Challenge against their English counterparts to establish the NRL as the elite competition.
Peacock believes the quality of the NRL provides Australia with an ‘environment of excellence’, but says home advantage could help England bridge the gap in quality.
He pinpointed the difficulties travelling teams face in acclimatising to conditions on the other side of the world and thinks England could cash in as a result.
“The weather is vastly different to what you get in Australia over here,” said Peacock. “It’s gloomy, miserable and rainy.
“On the other hand, when we played in the World Cup in Australia, we played in 35-degree heat and 100 per cent humidity.
“Secondly, the intensity of the crowd is different in England. All players mention when they’re playing here how loud, vocal and intimidating it can be.
“Thirdly, I think it’s just touring. Touring is difficult, right? You have good times, but to stay professional for nine to 10 weeks brings challenges. You’re 12,000 miles away from home.”
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