England 44 France 6: Wakefield's Johnstone grabs hat-trick on debut
A DREAM debut by Wakefield Trinity winger Tom Johnstone was the highlight of England's 44-6 win over France in Leigh on Wednesday night.
England led 38-0 at half-time before France regained some pride in the final 40 minutes.
Johnstone scored three successive tries in 13 first half minutes on a good night for England’s West Yorkshire contingent..
Leeds Rhinos half-back Richie Myler touched down once and created two other tries in his first Test appearance since 2012 and second-rower Oliver Holmes, of Castleford Tigers, was the pick of the four players drafted in from England Knights.
Johnstone played on the left side, alongside St Helens’ Mark Percival. His clubmate Reece Lyne won his first cap on the opposite flank, inside Huddersfield Giants’ Jermaine McGillvary.
They saw less of the ball, but Lyne made a strong break in the first half and their combination was strong in defence.
Tigers loose-forward Adam Milner came on in the first half and later had a spell at hooker and Rhinos’ Liam Sutcliffe played the final 22 minutes, in the second-row.
France are preparing for the forthcoming European Championships which double as a qualifier for the 2021 World Cup.
Though they shared the scoring in the second half, Scotland’s new coaching team of Wakefield’s Chris Chester and John Duffy of Featherstone were among the 5,144 crowd and will have seen little to worry about.
Teams can only deal with the opposition put up against them and England, minus players in last weekend’s Betfred Super League Grand Final, did an impressive job for 40 minutes before easing off.
It was one-way traffic throughout the opening period with England scoring inside 90 seconds through Tom Burgess, who - along with his twin brother George - made a big impact in the early stages.
Johnstone scored his first try on 13 minutes when he touched down from a grubber kick by Hull full-back Jamie Shaul.
He was in again six minutes later after a scramble close to France’s line and completed his hat-trick on 26 minutes with a fine take from another Hull man, Jake Connor’s high kick.
Connor finished with five conversions and a try.
Holmes went close to scoring in the first minute and made a huge break later in the half before a one-two with Myler who went in for the hosts’ fifth try on the half hour.
Milner sent fellow debutant Luke Thompson over for a try within moments of joining the action and on the final play of the half Elliott Whitehead touched down from Myler’s excellent short pass.
France only got into England’s 20 a couple of times before the break, but Theo Fages did go close before being hauled down by George Burgess.
England could not maintain their fluency after after-time and it took them 19 minutes to add their only second half try, though they did it in style as Connor made a flying catch from Myler’s cross-kick.
Percival converted that, but France avoided a whitewash moments later when Fages dropped a shoulder and nipped through a gap close to the line, William Barthau adding the extras.
France had most of the territory after that, but could not find another way through a solid England defence. Shaul crossed in the final moments, but the touchdown was ruled out for an obstruction.
Jimmy Lowes, Rhinos’ first team coach, has rejoined England’s backroom staff for the autumn internationals.
England begin their three-Test series against New Zealand in Hull in nine days’ time.
The Knights flew to Brisbane today to go into camp ahead of two matches in Papua New Guinea.
England: Shaul, Johnstone, Lyne, Percival, McGillvary, Myler, Connor, Graham, Hodgson, T Burgess, Holmes, Whitehead, G Burgess. Subs Milner, Thompson, Mulhern, Sutcliffe.
France: Robin, Marcon, Gigot, Ader, Miloudi, Fages, Barthau, Belmas, Da Costa, Canet, Jullien, Goudemand, Baitieri. Subs Marion, Margalet, Yesa, Escamilla.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield)