Sunday, 14 July 2019

'Bergalled'

Hornets nil - Toulouse Olympique 68

This game marked a watershed moment: the moment when Hornets openly conceded their Championship status - effectively knocking over their king on the 2019 season.

Once again, Hornets provided a literal zero resistance to an, admittedly, bigger, stronger, faster full-time opposition - but it was the flaccid manner of the defeat that leaves a punch-drunk hardcore of fans contemplating the route to West Wales Raiders next year.

Despite a competitive first 10 minutes, three Toulouse tries in just five minutes ahead of the quarter-mark set the tone for the remaining hour - in which Toulouse scored a further nine tries.

Half of their dozen came from a single source - former Leigh/Swinton wing Bergal grabbing six tries down Hornets' brittle right edge where he encountered minimal resistance.

In retrospect, Hornets' best chance of getting anything out of this game came after 10 minutes when Toulouse's lanky lump Bretherton hit Pierre Bourrel late with an obvious shoulder charge. But, rather than reach for a card, referee Matt Rossleigh showed his invertebrate qualities by not only putting the offence on report, but also handing the visitors the possession that led to the opening try. It felt wilfully harsh.

The rest of the half became a parade: Bergal, Vaivai and Mika clocking up six tries between them to give Olympique a comfortable 32-nil half time lead.

The second half looked much the same: Marcon mugging a napping defence from acting half on 47  minutes, then Bergal grabbing his fifth six minutes later. On the hour, Kheirallah grabbed the first of a brace off an audacious Ford pass: his second, the first of four tries in the last nine minutes which underpinned the glaring gulf in class.

Not much else to say, really. Toulouse were well-drilled and ruthlessly clinical, but barely crawled out of neutral in what - at times - looked like a low-impact training run.

We can't summarise this better than TS Eliot who, in his poem The Hollow Men, wrote: "This is how the world ends, not with a bang but with a whimper."

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse


The choking started early in Toulouse this season.

They've already suffered seven defeats this season - and last week's home loss to Bradford saw them cede second place in the table to York.

Needless to say, the local press went in pretty hard. La Depeche said (rough translation): "It was a shambles... For the (third) time this season, TO Lost on their home field, to the chagrin of their coach, Sylvain Houl├Ęs, (who was) annoyed by his players' mistakes."

Houles said  "We gave them too much ball that they knew how to exploit... They not only scored on our mistakes, but when we got back into the match, we allowed them to react. So many faults, lost ball, it is rare and it is not normal. It must be quickly remedied."

And all the pressure is on Toulouse this weekend, La Depeche in no mood to cut TO any slack: "Next Saturday, in Rochdale, facing the 'last of the class' (bottom of the league), we must not fail."

What is clear this season is that Toulouse's veneer of invincibility has been shattered - and they're going to have to find another gear if they're to avoid another disappointing and expensive year of Championship failure. Indeed on their own website they describe their current wobble as a' "... negative spiral in which they are stuck". Sounds like a team low on confidence and doubting their credibility as serious challengers to us.

Speaking to TO13.com this week, their Samoan forward Constantine Mika described it as 'frustration':  "It's a lot of frustration because we (have) conceded defeats with small margins. We are not at our best, but we are not far off. I think there are just 2-3 details that we need to work on to see our efforts end in victories."

Mika sees Saturday's game as an opportunity for a misfiring TO to reset its ailing promotion bid: "Our pursuers have caught us at the top of the rankings, we must win again this weekend and start again," he said. "We lost our second place in the standings. Now we have to make sure to take it back."

When asked if he saw a game against the bottom side as a good opportunity to 'rebound', Mika was circumspect: "... we shouldn't worry about the ranking of our opponent. We put ourselves in this situation, and the position of the teams we faced has (had) nothing to do with it. Now we have to consider every game as a final and prepare ourselves as such. It does not matter who is (higher in the table)."

TO threats come from the usual suspects: Aussie pair Mark Khierallah and louche canon Jonathon Ford, who remains the slow-turning cog at the heart of the Toulouse Machine. Stop him, and the whole thing runs less effectively. But it's easier said than done as he lopes from play to play looking to unleash that pendulous whip of a cut-out pass that cuts sides open.

Houle will be missing Bastien Ader, Andrew Bentley and Rhys Curran for the game. Dean Parata, Tony Maurel, William Barthau and Maxime Puech will also not make the trip.

Former Swinton Lion Ilias Bergal returns to the squad. Paul Marcon returns from a hamstring injury and Jordan Dezaria and Pierre-Jean Lima are also added to the squad.

Hornets come into Saturday's game on the back of a schizophrenic performance at Widnes: Possibly the best 40 minutes of the season, followed by a sloppy, shoddy second half that saw the Vikings run away with the game (well, jog away with it, really).

Mostly, though, we're just glad that Saturday's game is happening! Spotland's ground staff continue to have 'issues' with the pitch, leading to the postponement of the Dale's pre-season friendly against Blackburn on Sunday (we're hearing reports of another re-seeding following our game).

Having begun remedial work 10 days late - which forced Hornets to move the Swinton game to Mayfield, causing an absolute shit-storm and costing our club thousands in lost revenue - the Stadium's pitch contractor has advised 'to avoid two games in two days being played on the pitch'.

And while the Stadium says the schedule of games over the next month is 'extremely demanding on a newly laid surface' it's no different to previous years and Hornets have a glut of home games precisely because we are compelled to play away from home for six weeks while the work is done.

Ultimately, despite a shuffled Toulouse side low on confidence and doubting its plausibility as genuine promotion contenders, Hornets will still have to bring their A-Game on Saturday to get anything out of this contest.

Certainly the first half at Widnes gave a good indication of what Matt Calland's side is capable of when it focuses. We just need more of it.