Thursday, 21 June 2018

Sunday's Coming: Toulouse

Mark Khierallah: Né dans l'arrondissement
Français de Darlinghurst.
On a weekend of international sport, there’s only one game in town - and Toulouse come to Spotland on Sunday on the back of a rare defeat; downed 16-18 by Leigh in Albi last week.

Clearly, we’d love to think that this heralds the the point in the season where they quietly fade into a mid-table malaise - so we went in search of clues: starting with reports on the Leigh defeat (All translations are ours, courtesy of our O-Level French and a bit of Google translate).

In their post match analysis (‘The Centurions Spoil the Party’ - ah, bless), TOXIIIC said on their website: that the result was “… regrettable for TO, whose outcome was not deserved, but who were confronted with cold English realism.” Ah, we love it when they get bitter over a 2-point loss.

The first wobble in Toulouse’s annual choke-fest? They hinted as much in their match report, saying: “(Toulouse) stalled in the race for the Top 4 against a direct competitor, and will start again next Sunday in Rochdale…”

Having led 16-14 after the break, TO’s reporter produces a small onion and cries about how two Leigh penalties snatched the win for the Leythers after TOXIIIC had two try claims struck off.

Leigh’s win was built on determined defence. Or, as La Depeche put it in their report: “The big defensive pressure imposed by the English damaged the beautiful mechanics of Toulouse.”  So getting amongst them reduces their effectiveness.

In summary, sheep-farmer and part-time coach Sylvain Houles said: “"Our execution and our passing work were poor. It's frustrating because (the game) was largely winnable. But they put us under a lot of defensive pressure and made us make mistakes.” He concluded “ We lacked control, playing too early or moving the ball too early - our timing needs reviewing”.

As we know, TOXIIIC don’t deal with defeats too well, but genuine local French prop Maxime Puech is looking at it philosophically (with a shrug, we assume): “We did not seize opportunities to score. We were unclear when (Leigh) showed up. We had to be ’sharper’ in our game. We made too many mistakes. And we didn’t always defend very well.”

He went on: “We’re still in the race, but this failure can put you under pressure before going to Rochdale and then Sheffield.”

“Let's not forget that last year we lost to bottom teams. (We) do not take any team lightly and prepare (for) all the matches as if we are facing big guys. And it's about going to Rochdale before thinking of Sheffield.

When asked last week whether promotion to Super League remains realistic goal this year, Toulouse president Bernard Sarrazain was pretty circumspect for a man into this for a million Euros a season: “We have never been so close to the ‘summit’. But it's going to be complicated. It's been 10 years that we have been working on it. There are teams of (a) very high level. Our first goal is to finish in the top four of the championship (then play) the finals. To achieve this, we have to win five of our last seven games.”

With five defeats already, Toulouse cling precariously to second place on-points difference from Featherstone - and only a point ahead of Halifax who have the same number of wins.

Ones to watch are stand-off Jonathan Ford (the championship player with by far the greatest gulf between his ability and the effort he expends) and fullback Mark Kheirallah, French League’s Australian poster-boy after he once scored a try against Australia in a game where France got flogged.

Toulouse are likely to be missing Aussie second-row Rhys Curran. who has damaged a wrist, but they have taken Wigan prop Joe Bretherton on loan until the end of the season.

Hornets come into Sunday’s game on the back of a frankly horrible performance at London that had no merits whatsoever. Having been forced to endure the worst view in British RL, the long-suffering Hornets fans had their faith tested to the limit as London handed out a brutal lesson in creativity and defensive dominance.

If it’s true that Hornets always respond to a poor performance by producing a better, grittier display, then this is the weekend to do it. The key is staying with Toulouse for as long as possible. Winning set-to-set on attack and defence will lay the platform. And keeping Ford quiet will be key.

Don’t forget: Sunday’s game has been moved to a 4pm kick-off to avoid a clash with popular quiz show ’Catchphrase’.