Monday, 21 August 2017

French Farce

Toulouse 50 - Hornets 12

The Manic Street Preachers wrote a song called  'All Surface and No Feeling' - and that's five words that perfectly describes the facade that is Toulouse Olympique. A very good footballing team, but a bunch of dead-eyed mercenaries given a shallow veneer of authenticity by the hollowed-out husk of what used to be a proper club.

And if TOXIIIC were always Rugby League's unfunniest joke, on Saturday night in Blagnac they surpassed even their own ability to plumb new depths of utter crapness.

You see, TOXIIIC like to f*ck teams about. Playing a challenger for a top four spot in the hottest month of the year? Force them to kick off at 3pm. Playing a side that's already beaten them once this year? Play them on a non-bank-holiday Monday with an 8pm kick off, which compels them to travel on game-day, arriving for their flight out at 5am.

If there's an inch of daylight in the operating laws, these buggers will prise it open if if gives them an advantage.

As it was, Hornets rocked up for an 8pm kick-off on a Saturday night and were caught cold. Two rapid fire tries from Australian Kheirallah gave the home side an early 12-nil lead and the Toulouse's 350 supporters (they claimed 1,200 on their website and 612 in the press) were frothing at the pants.

Hornets hit back on the quarter hour when a dink in the in-goal caused panic and Danny Yates was able to touch down. Palfrey hit the target to half the arrears.

Hornets began to apply some pressure, but two moments of Harlem-Globetrotters showboating from Minga and Margueritte hauled TO out to 22-6.  But Hornets stuck to the plan and, with the home-side visibly blowing, Yatesey's kick behind the defence was snaffled  by Gaz Middlehurst who touched down unopposed. Lewis Palfrey added the extras and Hornets had the momentum.

Indeed, Hornets ended the half the stronger and the small, but vociferous support thought all it needed was a few glitches fixing up at half time and an early score to put TO under pressure.

But wait...

With the clock approaching 9pm, it was announced that the floodlights had failed and that the referee wouldn't kick off the second half until they were fixed. Now - if it were us running a club that opted to play at 8pm, we'd have sent someone along in the afternoon to flick the switch and check that the lights were working. TOXIIIC hadn't done that.

In an ever deepening darkness, the crowd were first told that the deadline for the arrival of an electrician/potential abandonment was 9.15pm.

9.15 came and went, with no news. The players out on the field trying to keep warm and loose. Then an announcement that the deadline for a decision would be 9.30pm - which duly came and went. The Match commissioner made a few calls, the TO president wandered around shrugging...

9.30 came and went. The revised deadline for a decision was now 9.45, people now conjugating what happens if a game doesn't go past the break.

At 9.44 - with pretty much all of the game's momentum gone, energy/enthusiasm levels sapped and Lewis Palfrey and Josh Crowley struggling to overcome cramping muscles, the lights miraculously sprang to life.

With both sides compelled to warm-up from scratch and refocus, the game eventually stuttered to a restart at 10pm.

The first 20 minutes of the half were an arm-wrestle. Hornets laying siege to the French line, but unable to find a breakthrough. A lofted kick to Chris Riley the most likely option, but deemed knocked on my referee Mr Moore who, incidentally, had a shocker.

Toulouse played their get-out-of-jail card, releasing Minga on what looked like a certain try - only for Lewis Galbraith to track back and produce a try-saving tackle of the highest quality, forcing the TO wing into a double movement.

Then disaster. Lewis Palfrey failed to find touch with the penalty and Mika ambled onto a short-ball at close range. Kheirallah the extras for 28-12. Just gutting.

Then came the coup-de-grace courtesy of a frankly awful decision from Mr Moore. Having policed the ruck inconsistently all night, Minga (we think) broke in centre field, reeled in by Gaz Middlehurst. Clearly tackled with his ball-carrying arm hitting the floor, the TO player jumped to his feet to continue to play-on. In the process he became entangled with Middlehurst and fell to the ground. The home crowd bayed, Mr Moore reached for the Yellow card, Middlehurst dispatched - supposedly for throwing a punch. No, us neither.

Hornets reduced to 12, the home side went feral, playing off-structure to run in four tries in 10 minutes. Game dead, points gone, thanks for coming.

The game eventually slid to an end at 10.45 - just ridiculous.

Post match, Alan Kilshaw was incredulous, referring to the hour's delay as 'a farce'.  And it was. We couldn't think of any other team in the league who would be given an hour to sort out what is a basic staple of hosting evening games. We can only hope that there will be repercussions, but don't hold your breath.

In the wash-up, Toulouse remain a hard club to like. Arrogant in the extreme and repeatedly exposed as the flat-track bullies that they are. An embarrassing, plastic, soulless RFL vanity project.

But remember, having burned 1.8 million Euros to end up in the same 'eight' as Hornets, their season has been a catastrophic failure, whereas our challenge remains alive.