Tom Wood admits to a sense of relief as England opened the prelude to their World Cup with a 19-14 victory over France at Twickenham.
Wings Anthony Watson and Jonny May plundered three tries amid a dazzling three-quarter performance that benefited from a well-balanced centre combination of Sam Burgess and Henry Slade.
France’s pack dominated the final half-hour, however, and England survived a late assault to record a sixth successive victory at the venue where all but one of their World Cup matches will be staged.
“This win was massive for any number of reasons,” said Wood, who led the side in the absence of the rested Chris Robshaw.
“We’d no doubt have made our excuses if we’d lost – ‘it was a warm-up game and we don’t want to peak too early’ – but the reality is we’d hate to lose here at Twickenham. We wanted a work-out and to test ourselves up front. We didn’t take points when we could have done, but it was important to play with intensity and get that win.”
The main focus for the first of three matches leading into England 2015 was how Burgess and Slade would perform on their debuts with as many as two centre slots available in the World Cup squad. Brad Barritt and Jonathan Joseph are the only midfield certainties for inclusion among the final 31 that must be named by August 31, offering the uncapped duo the stage to press their claims.
Cross-code convert Burgess flattened Dimitri Szarzewski and Alexandre Dumoulin with two destructive hits and looked comfortable in international union, while Slade passed intelligently and set up two tries.
“It’s really uplifting when you see someone like Sam smash one of their front-row forwards early in the game. That’s a massive lift for the team,” Wood said. “And it was brilliant to see Henry’s sleight of hand on the national stage too. The little touches out of the back door and keeping the ball alive are what he’s in the team to do.
“We’d seen it in training over the past eight weeks. The only question was whether we’d get to see it in the Test arena and we saw some really good glimpses of it. We showed some bits of magic, especially the backline where the debutants really brought their club form on to the national stage, which was brilliant.”
An oddity of the match running contrary to historical strengths was England coming off worse up front while excelling behind the scrum.
It was a largely second-string Red Rose pack, but the manner in which they were bossed in the final quarter and the difficulties of their set-piece – albeit against a strong French eight – was cause for alarm.
“We went toe to toe with their pack at times. We challenged ourselves to do that,” Wood said.
“In other games we’d perhaps play to our strengths and move the ball away, but we wanted a really good work-out up front and we got one.
“It didn’t all go our way but by and large we’re pretty pleased with what we got out of it.”