Shaun Wane got a victory in his first Test in charge of his country but his side had to work hard for it in Perpignan.
England, with eight new caps, looked mighty impressive when they went 20-0 up inside just 18 minutes.
However, thereafter, France gave them plenty to think about and it was only late tries from Tommy Makinson and John Bateman, who both completed doubles, that added some gloss for the visitors.
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It will leave Wane - whose only other game in charge was the defeat to the Combined Nations All Stars in June - with plenty to ponder as preparations start for the World Cup next autumn.
All the debutants, such as Hull KR half-back Jordan Abdull plus Castleford Tigers duo Paul McShane and Niall Evalds, showed glimpses of what they could do.
But, as a whole, England became too scrappy and ill-disciplined to fully capitalise on their early endeavours and were reduced to 12 men when Jonny Lomax was sin-binned in the 69th minute.
That was a case of mistaken identity - it was team-mate Liam Farrell who pulled back Mark Kheirallah as the Touluse full-back chased his own kick - but it summed up how their day unfolded.
It had started well. The hosts got off to the worst possible start when they allowed Abdull’s kick-off to bounce dead, allowing Wane’s side to quickly take control.
Romain Navarrete caught Morgan Knowles high from the resulting drop-out to let everyone know this was going to be a typically feisty affair - and the chance for some early pushing and shoving between the rival sides.
McShane ushered Liam Farrell over with a short pass and, when Mark Kheirallah dropped the first of many towering Abdull kicks, Evalds’ fine cut-out pass saw Catalans winger Tom Davies finish brilliantly on his home ground.
When France attempted an ill-advised short restart, England were immediately gifted more possession which they duly turned into points, Abdull and Jonny Lomax linking smartly for Makinson to cross.
Their best try was still to come when Lomax, once more, proved the instigator with a long pass to Reece Lyne who exchanged passes with Davies to cut France open down the right.
He then found Evalds who again had the final assist for Bateman to scamper over for the Yorkshireman’s first.
Abdull slotted the second of his three conversions but that would be the last time they would score until the 72nd minute.
France gave a swift indication of their true potential when they easily skinned England with their first real attack soon after but Morgan Escare’s effort was ruled out due to his foot grazing the touchline.
But Lyne then made the visitors’ first handling error of the game and Knowles departed with an ankle injury on the half-hour mark to cause some disruption.
McShane and Ben Currie made further unforced errors before Lyne was penalised for a dangerous tackle which - in Super League, at least - would ordinarily result in a yellow card.
The Wakefield Trinity stayed on the field and he was needed as England were forced to defend three back-to-back sets on their own line before the hooter.
They successfully managed that but any hopes of building on a 20-0 interval lead were quickly extinguished at the start of the second period.
Davies, who had smartly swapped the ball into his left hand to finish in the first half, tried doing the same for no reason when giving a gilt-edged chance and spilled when he could have walked in.
Seconds later, France scored at the other end when hooker Elois Pellisier, who made such an impact off the bench, darted up the middle and Corentin Le Cam - the six foot eight inch Catalans forward - finished excellently on his debut.
Tony Gigot, the former Wakefield half-back, thought he had added a second try following a ball steal on Joe Philbin but it was rightly ruled out as the Warrington forward had already been tackled.
Nevertheless, it was a let-off and only served to further encourage France who began to show plenty of enterprise to add to their new-found defensive vigour.
Lomax was smashed by Le Cam and France had another try ruled out when Paul Segur wonderfully broke and dummied for Kheirallah to score - only to be brought back for an obstruction on the St Helens stand-off.
Currie broke from deep to relieve the pressure on England but Lyne bombed the chance with a poor pass to Davies and when Lomax was yellow carded it seemed France might finally capitalise.
However, instead, Makinson added his second and, though Justin Sangaré scored far too easily in response, Alex Walmsley and Mike Cooper offloaded expertly to create Bateman’s second at the death.