Grading all four England debuts including Elliot Minchella, Brad O’Neill after France victory

Louis Chapman Coombe

England shook off a shaky start to put France to the sword with a 40-8 victory in Toulouse. 

Braces from Ash Handley, Jack Welsby and Tom Johnstone, alongside other scores from Matty Nicholson and George Williams helped guide Andy Last’s side to yet another victory over the French; keeping a 47-year streak in tact.

It was by no means a vintage display from England though. The team only had a short preparation time, and the performance reflected that. Uncharacteristic errors cost England some clear-cut chances, and otherwise they looked out of sync. France also put up a much more competitive showing.

England also managed to blood four new debutants within the 17-man-squad, as Shaun Wane rewarded Super League form.

Castleford Tigers centre Sam Wood, Wigan Warriors hooker Brad O’Neill, Hull KR loose forward Elliot Minchella and Huddersfield Giants prop Oliver Wilson all made their maiden international appearances today, but how did they fair? Here are our gradings of each of the four debutants.

Sam Wood: B+

Sam Wood for Castleford Tigers-Alamy

Maybe one of the surprise call-ups, however Sam Wood gave a decent account of himself in the centres. He really packed a punch in defence, notably putting in a big tackle on Enzo Griffier just as the Frenchman looked to send Hakim Miloudi in for a try, and kept France at bay in the early exchanges.

Wood has also become known for his strike on Castleford’s left edge, and he did this for England when it was desperately needed. He ran a lovely line off Jack Welsby, and gave a cute offload back to him too, in the build-up to Matty Nicholson’s try which helped his team get back on top.

Brad O’Neill: C

Brad O'Neill
Brad O’Neill lifts the Challenge Cup following Wigan Warriors’ triumph in the competition’s 2024 final against Warrington Wolves

Young Wigan Warriors hooker Brad O’Neill had a very steady debut, but didn’t set the pitch alight. England were starved of possession early doors, however he did distribute well from the ruck. When England did get more onto the front-foot he provided consistent quick-ball too.

The combination with Harry Smith clearly transferred over to the test stage too, with the pair able to really read each other well and boosting Smith’s kicking game nicely.

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Elliot Minchella: B-

Elliot Minchella
Elliot Minchella in action for Hull KR in 2024

People have been crying out to see Hull KR skipper Elliot Minchella in an England shirt, and he didn’t put a foot wrong on his maiden appearance. He really got involved in a lot of tackles early doors, and as England gained more possession he grew into the game and began to get his hands on the ball.

He gave a lovely switch pass to create some space for Harry Newman too, and grew into that link-play role well as the game went on. He also started to combine well with the middles to pile the pressure on.

Oliver Wilson: C+

Oliver Wilson Huddersfield Giants Alamy

Came into the game when England were on the back foot, but added some decent impact to bring them back into the contest.

Despite giving away an unnecessary penalty early into his stint, he really provided some punch through the middle and helped get his side a platform into the game. Put himself about in defence as well, and overall just did his job well.

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