England survived a pounding up front to beat France in their opening World Cup warm-up game.
England took an early 12-3 lead through two stunning Anthony Watson tries.
But the strength of France’s experienced pack gave Morgan Parra the chance to make it 12-9 at the break.
A superb Jonny May try saw England pull clear again and although the power of the French saw them cut the margin to five points as Fulgence Ouedraogo drove over from a maul, the hosts held on.
What was the difference?
Long gone are the days when French flair would take on England’s brutal efficiency and it was the cutting edge of the backline, with debutant centres Henry Slade and Sam Burgess both impressing, albeit in very different fashion, that made the difference.
Full-back Alex Goode surely booked his World Cup spot with a classy display before being replaced early in the second half, while May and Watson were a constant threat.
That’s not to say England won easily. An experienced France pack frequently had the better of the hosts at the scrum and in the second half, with England reduced to 14 men after Calum Clark saw their second yellow card of the night – Sam Burgess had received the first – they threatened to overwhelm England on occasion.
In the end England’s attacking potency when they had the ball, plus a couple of vital turnovers from replacement flanker James Haskell, was enough to see them home.
The game started with a bang
England, with Burgess smashing everything in defence and Slade and Goode showing lovely touches in attack, started with a bang and scored the first try when Exeter’s Slade found Watson 10 metres out.
The 21-year-old Bath man had Brice Dulin in front of him and about five metres to work in, but a flaring split-step sidestep left Dulin dizzy as Watson raced over.
Soon after May came scorching into the line and took three men out of play before feeding Watson to scorch over from 25 metres.
France were pedestrian in comparison but their scrum was on top and Parra’s boot ensured England were only three points up at the break.