Hall and Young fly past France and put England in line for World Cup last eight

It is all going to precisely to plan for England at the World Cup so far. Two games, two wins and barring what would be the greatest upset of all-time against Greece next week, top spot in Group A and a purported easier route to next month’s final is almost secure.

While last Saturday’s win over Samoa was near-perfect, this victory against a gallant French side was not without moments of concern for the ultra-demanding Shaun Wane. After half an hour, the prospect of another convincing win was firmly on the cards, with England leading 18-0 and superb value for it.

But France are improving and by half-time they had reduced the deficit to six points. They were unable to transform that into a shock result by the end but England let their guard slip, and France took advantage. If they do that against Australia or New Zealand, they will be punished in a much more ruthless fashion.

Wane read his side the proverbial riot act at half-time and they responded. They moved through the gears in efficient manner during the second half, with a run of 24 unanswered points and standout displays from the likes of George Williams and Victor Radley decisive. Wane’s ability to convince Radley, whose father is from Sheffield, to pick England over Australia looks a masterstroke.

“I knew we could do better,” Wane said about the message he delivered to the players at the break. “I was frustrated because in that first 20 minutes we were outstanding. The second 20, we went away from that but I don’t want to talk France down, either. In patches, we can defend better but the blueprint was there in that first 20.”

Wane handed several players who were overlooked last week a chance to impress here, with Ryan Hall among them. The Hull KR winger certainly seized the opportunity, with his two tries inside the opening 15 minutes helping put the hosts 12-0 ahead. Radley was influential in England’s third, as his break teed up Luke Thompson to extend the lead.

At that point, England were in complete control. But France fought back, albeit aided by the hosts slipping in their standards. In the end, the tries from Arthur Mourgue and Éloi Pélissier which made it 18-12 at the break merely stirred the hosts into life in the second half. But make no mistake about it, they had given the hosts a real fright.

Their challenge next week is doing the same against Samoa, with the winner almost certain to claim second spot behind England and a place in the quarter-finals. “I am proud of the effort of the boys,” France coach, Laurent Frayssinous, said. “We challenged a great England team in a few areas which is what we wanted to do. We are not at their level yet but we want to be.”

French rugby league is moving in the right direction but England were simply too good for them in the second half. A home World Cup is about capturing the imagination of the public, and few English players do that like Dom Young. The Newcastle Knights winger is a superstar in the making and whenever he touches the ball, you sense the crowd rise to their feet in anticipation.

That was evident with the two tries he scored in the second half which helped swing the balance convincingly back in England’s favour after that wobble as half-time approached. They calmed any nerves of a grand French shock six minutes after the restart, when John Bateman’s clever run was finished by Elliott Whitehead to make it 24-12.

That clicked England back into gear. Andy Ackers kicked through for Radley to get the try his performance deserved before Young took centre-stage. The winger finished an exhilarating move started by Radley to put the result beyond doubt before picking off a Pélissier pass to race the length of the field and crank the decibel level inside the stadium up a notch or two. Young is an undoubted roof-raiser.

France claimed a consolation in the final moments through Arthur Romano but the result had long since been decided. There is room for improvement, but the early signs look promising for Wane and his side.