Shaun Wane had hoped to learn plenty of lessons here about the shape of his England squad ahead of next year’s World Cup, but at the end of the biggest lesson may be one that is completely out of the coach’s control. On the day England were due to start their World Cup campaign against Samoa in Newcastle before the competition was pushed back 12 months, Wane watched his side ultimately navigate a tricky test in Perpignan against a resilient French side.
After the opening 20 minutes, Wane would have been delighted with what he had seen: four tries all of the highest quality and a deserved 20-0 lead. The result had almost been put beyond doubt already but as Wane admitted in the buildup, this Test was about much more than the result. He wanted to learn more about the players – not least the eight debutants – on show to ensure he has the best possible squad to try win the World Cup next year.
But the lacklustre nature of the majority of the final hour here was, one felt, out of Wane and the players’ control to a degree. When the national team are playing for only the second time in more than 600 days, it is hard to fathom how there can be any sort of sustainable development. The longer the British game prioritises club over country, the more England will struggle to fulfil their potential and reach the level of Australia and New Zealand.
The fact England had only three training sessions in the run-up to this game underlines that point, and therefore Wane’s biggest takeaway from this will be that the national side must be given as many opportunities together as possible in 2022, whether in mid-season camps or, more importantly, actual Test matches.
“There are some good lessons we can take and we need to improve, but we did some good things,” he said. “If you’d offered me that score I’d have been happy. I’ll always look to try to improve us, though.”
Midway through the first half, England seemed already assured of victory. Liam Farrell opened the scoring before a wonderful one-handed finish from Tom Davies made it 10-0. Tommy Makinson then crossed on the opposite wing, before the captain, John Bateman, strolled through a gap in a French defense that had barely gotten out of first gear. At that stage, it looked like it would simply be a case of how many England would win by.
But Laurent Frayssinous’ side, who had a number of promising young players on display after a breakthrough year for the French game in general, fought back well. By half-time not only had they moved through the gears, but England had started to stumble, too. The score remained 20-0 at the break but it was no surprise when France opened the scoring after the restart as the forward Corentin Le Cam surged through a gap to touch down.
Had two further tries for the hosts not been disallowed, the prospect of England battling to hang on to victory could have been very much on the cards.
However, they dug in well after those relative scares and finished with a flourish once again, with further tries from Makinson and Bateman. The period in the middle, as much as Wane was philosophical about it, will have no doubt caused him some concern, though.
With no disrespect to the French, the bigger tests are to come in Wane’s mission to lift the World Cup. One suspects he will be making it abundantly clear to his superiors at the Rugby Football League in the coming days that, if the national side are treated as second-class citizens again in 2022, his dream could be some way from becoming a reality.