LEEDS RHINOS star Kallum Watkins admits it was “good to be back” in an England shirt after helping his country to a record-breaking rout of hapless France.
The silky centre scored one of 15 tries as England, with Rhinos colleague Ryan Hall crossing for two and Zak Hardaker looking strong at full-back, destroyed their depleted opponents at Leigh.
It was a routine warm-up ahead of Sunday’s first Test opener against New Zealand at Hull FC and, given it’s been almost 12 months since their last international – the 16-14 Four Nations defeat to the Kiwis in Dunedin – Watkins conceded it was much-needed.
“It was good to be back out there,” he said, having gained his ninth try in 12 appearances for England. “It’s something special playing for your country, some of the lads had not played at all for a while and we did very well. We just wanted to get through our sets and when the opportunity came take it.
“That’s what we did and that is all due to the preparation we’ve been doing these last couple of weeks. It binds us together even more as part of the preparation going into this Test series against the Kiwis.
“We’re very pleased with how we went and we can only play what’s in front of you.”
France, missing around a dozen players and including some part-timers, never stood a chance.
They were 18-0 down inside just eight minutes and, though winger Olivier Arnaud hit back, it was a fleeting, solitary response as they suffered a 14th straight defeat against England since their last victory in 1981.
Things got so bad after the break the shambolic visitors, enduring their worst ever loss to England eclipsing the 73-6 defeat at Gateshead in 1996, did not even touch the ball until the 58th minute.
Their ruthless opponents ran in six successive tries, young Wigan half-back George Williams impressing on his debut controlling things with Gareth Widdop, while Huddersfield Giants’ second-row Brett Ferres confirmed his spot against the Kiwis with a second-half hat-trick.
Other try scorers were James Roby (2), former Hull KR hooker Josh Hodgson, Liam Farrell, debutant winger Joe Burgess, Williams and Tom Burgess, the storming South Sydney prop who brought real impact off the bench in front of watching brother Sam, while Widdop ended with 12 goals.
Wigan’s John Bateman was a revelation, too, on debut in the left centre, scoring two tries and setting up both Hall’s scores, drawing praise from Watkins.
“He was fantastic,” he said, about the converted second-row who, at still just 22, is a tremendous talent.
“He’s had a great season at Wigan and had to mix about his positions but he’s found one where he looks very strong and very comfortable.
“He’s played on the right side at the Wigan, the same as me, but he’s naturally left sided and showed that.
“He’s worked hard, deserved his place here in the team and was very, very strong putting Hally in for a couple of tries and scoring a couple himself so he should be very proud on his debut.”
England: Hardaker; J Burgess, Watkins, Bateman, Hall; Widdop, Williams; Graham, Hodgson, Hill, Whitehead, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Roby, T Burgess, Cooper, Ferres.
France: Escare; Sigismeau, Baile, Jullien, Arnaud; Robin, Marginet; Bousquet, Boudebza, Maria, Larroyer, Perez, Simon. Substitutes: Kriouache, Springer, Boyer, Goudemand.
Referee: James Child (England).