Monday, 25 June 2018

Toulouse Too Hot.

Hornets 14 - Toulouse 70

The logic is irrefutable. Put a team of try-hard part-timers up against a million-Euro bunch of dead-eyed mercenaries and you’re only ever going to get gunned down.

In this foregone conclusion of a game, there was little joy for any of the stakeholders as it played out to script and the Toulouse wagon kept on rolling. At the reins, two of the Championship’s most enigmatic players: Jonathan Ford and Mark Kheirallah. The former giving the impression that he does bugger-all, whilst what he does makes a vast difference; the latter giving the impression that he makes a vast difference when, in fact, he does bugger-all of substance.

Ford is a languid, louche presence - not so much backing up, more uncoiling in back play to launch that whip of a cut-out pass, before retreating into the shadows for a deserved nap. Kheirallah is an angry wasp - all noise and bluster, acceleration and a decent boot his only real contribution.

Behind this insouciant double-act dances a chorus-line of hired goons - standover men whose job is to supply muscle on-demand and bludgeon you into defeat. Quite literally in this case as - with just three minutes on the clock - Danny Yates was hit late by lanky meat-head Bretherton. With the Wigan loanee dispatched to consider his actions, Tyler Whittaker hit the spot to give Hornets a 2-nil lead.

Shaken by the impertinence, Toulouse came crashing back with a quick-fire Mika double whammy: the first piling in fro close range off a short-ball, the second after the visitors had milked back-to-back penalties: Ford releasing a flat-pass into space for the big Samoan to slump in. 2-12.

After Billy Brickhill hoofed the kick-off into the Sandy Lane end, Toulouse went straight back on the offensive, this time the ball was worked to Kheirallah who strolled in. Clearly exhausted by his efforts he put the conversion wide: 2-16.

But Hornets continued to press and probe. Rob Massam going agonisingly close in the corner, succumbing eventually to the weight of French numbers. Toulouse responded by putting on a 70 metre move begun via a sloppy tackle and ended by Kriouache for 2-20.

Hornets went back to Rob Massam on the half hour; a last tackle bomb slipping from his fingers in the in-goal.

Off the hook, Toulouse marched straight upfield where Bouzinac drilled in through a tiring defence from acting half. And with the half ebbing away, Barthau cut through a hole to score under the black dot. Half time 2-30: the scoreline not really reflecting Hornets’ effort.

The second half began in the worst way possible. Toulouse gathered the kick-off and, two minutes later, sent Puech rumbling in off a short pass. But Hornets hit straight back: Hepi coughing the ball, Jack Fox exposing Ford’s sloppy defensive qualities to stride away and score. Whittaker the two and a palpable lift in the home-fans’ spirits (8-36).

As the game became scrappy, Toulouse kept the scoreboard ticking over: Barthau stepping through, then Kheirallah hitting the afterburners to feed Barthau in for his third.

Hornets meantime refused to lie-down - some impressive defence from Jack Fox and an attempted intercept from Richard Lepori that bounced agonisingly from his hands. On 65 minutes Hornets got their just rewards. Again it was Jack Fox stepping through a lazy Ford tackle, the ball worked to Lewis Hatton who plunged in to score. Whittaker the extras for 14-48.

As the game entered the last 15 minutes, Toulouse’s full-time fitness eventually told as Hornets wilted in the heat - four late tries blowing out the scoreline First Canet off a pendulous cut-out pass from Ford; then Kriouache stepping through after a Hepi break up the guts of the defence. With five minutes remaining, Ford again unleashing that pass for Ader to score and - on the hooter - Kheirallah touching down a Hepi toe-poke into the in-goal. Final score a bloated 14-70. In the midst of this, Ben Moores yellow-carded for dissent.

In the wash-up there are two undeniable certainties about Toulouse. One: if you let Ford dictate the pace and direction of the game, you’re pretty much done. Yes, he’s a lazy bugger stealing a living at a level way below his capabilities, but he’s the switch that flicks his team into life. Second: Toulouse Olympique remain a hard team to like. They ooze disdain for the Championship and - for the main part - soullessly work their way through the playbook until the hooter tells them to stop.

Hornets on the other hand showed some nice touches and kept grafting in the face of insurmountable odds. But you can sense the frustration caused by a multitude of daft errors that repeatedly gave Toulouse the opportunity to bombard them.

Ultimately, using our logical head, we maintain that these are not the games that will define our season. Hornets need to stay in touch with Swinton, Dewsbury and Sheffield - and make games against the teams around us in the 8s a priority.