England Youth dug deep to take first blood with victory in the opening match of the two-Test series against their French counterparts in Entraigues sur Sorgue last night (Friday).
The tourists twice came from behind to get the better of France with a strong second half display that featured a try, two goals and a drop-goal by Morgan Smith, the Leeds Rhinos and Stanley Rangers scrum-half who proved a danger throughout.
France took an early lead with a try by full-back Luc Franco, converted by Sophien Bitigzi before England responded with a try from Warrington Wolves and Latchford Albion winger Jack Fox.
Smith could not add the goal and was again off target after Will Dagger, the Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and Stanley Rangers wing, had edged his team ahead with a try on 31 minutes.
A try by Bitigzi four minutes later took France to the break with a 10-8 advantage to set up a pulsating second half played in perfect conditions.
The second quarter belonged to England who, roared on by some vocal support from their travelling parents, gained the ascendency with two more tries, the first by Max Dudley of Wigan Warriors and Wigan Judes who was quickly followed over by Smith, who added both conversion.
France hit back with a try by winger Corentin Adel but a drop-goal from Smith nine minutes from the end completed the scoring and sealed a fine win for coach Stu Barrow’s team.
“I am delighted, not just by the result but by the performance: the boys can feel proud of their efforts tonight,” said Barrow.
“We knew it was going to be tough and very physical and the French held nothing back but we stood up well defensively and showed some great resilience to get the result.
“There are still some areas in which we need to improve but I can’t fault the players for their attitude and application.”
Barrow has a 35-man squad at his disposal and is expected to ring the changes for the next match of England Youth’s three-match tour against a French President’s XIII on Monday (4.00pm) before naming his team for the second Test against France Youth in Toulon on Tuesday (7.00pm).
The England Youth team v France Youth was as follows (community club and professional club shown in brackets):
Lewis Heckford (Stanley Rangers, Wigan Warriors)
Jack Fox (Latchford Albion, Warrington Wolves)
Liam Paisley (Dalton, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats)
Ryan Jones (Oulton Raiders, Leeds Rhinos)
Will Dagger (Castleford Panthers, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats)
Craig Mullins (Blackbrook, Wigan Warriors)
Morgan Smith (Stanley Rangers, Leeds Rhinos)
Matthew English (Stanley Rangers, Huddersfield Giants)
Josh Ganson (Blackbrook, St Helens)
Connor Sunderland (Normanton Knights, Leeds Rhinos)
Jack Wells (Folly Lane, Wigan Warriors)
Jordan Lane (West Hull, Hull FC)
Cameron Smith (Castleford Panthers, Leeds Rhinos)
Jack Gordon (Dalton, Cumbria RPDC)
Max Dudley (Wigan St Judes, Wigan Warriors)
Charlie Weaver (Skirlaugh, Hull FC)
Conor Fitzsimmons (Seaton, Cumbria RPDC)