England 44-6 France: Tom Johnstone hits first-half hat-trick on debut

Tom Johnstone scores a try against France
Tom Johnstone scores a try against France

Winger Tom Johnstone scored a first-half hat-trick on debut as England flexed their muscles for the Test series against New Zealand with a 44-6 rout of France in Leigh.

The Wakefield flyer was one of four new caps hoping to stake a claim for spots against the Kiwis and he took his chance to impress head coach Wayne Bennett with some devastating finishing that brought him three tries in 24 minutes.

Johnstone's Trinity team-mate Reece Lyne and Castleford second rower Oliver Holmes - one of four players called up from the England Knights squad due to fly out of Manchester on Thursday morning for their tour of Papua New Guinea - also caught the eye on their first appearances.

But Bennett will not be getting carried away by the eight-try victory over a poor French team who included seven new faces of their own in the absence of a host of regulars.

France coach Aurelien Cologni will at least have the likes of Wigan pair Romain Navarrete and Morgan Escare back for their European Championship campaign while Bennett will bolster his squad with the Grand Finalists from Wigan and Warrington for the first Test against New Zealand on Saturday week.

It took England under two minutes to get the scoreboard ticking over as prop Tom Burgess looked to offload from the tackle only to back his way over the line for a try that illustrated the gulf in power between the teams.

Johnstone then demonstrated the difference in pace by outsprinting his opposite number to touch down full-back Jamie Shaul's grubber kick for his first try.

The Wakefield man then took advantage of a lucky deflection to grab his second and completed his hat-trick on 25 minutes by gathering the ball from half-back Jake Connor's high kick.

Holmes produced some touches on his first appearance and it was from his half-break that stand-off Richie Myler scored the next try to extend the lead to 26-0 which provided an opportunity for Bennett to give the Burgess brothers a rest.

There was no respite for the French, though, as loose forward Adam Milner got his fellow replacement Luke Thompson over for a nicely worked try while the half-backs combined to get second rower Elliott Whitehead over just before the break, when England led 38-0.

The scoring slowed up in the second half as Bennett rang the changes and the game, watched by a crowd of 5,144 at the Sports Village, went flat.

Connor, who kicked five first-half conversions, scored England's only try in the second half in spectacular fashion, leaping off balance to gather and touch down Myler's kick, and Mark Percival added the goal.

St Helens stand-off Theo Fages then ensured there would be no whitewash as he dummied his way over for a 63rd-minute consolation try, to which William Barthau added the goal.


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