Sunday, 21 August 2016


Toulouse 46 - Hornets 6

It's fair to say that Toulouse Olympique don't want teams to come here and give them a contest. The whole charade is an ambush: a mugging cunningly disguised as sport.

As TOXIIIC steamroller their way to inevitable promotion, they neither want nor like teams that give them a hard time. They want undercooked teams flown in the night before, served up as cannon fodder for their dead-eyed mercenaries to pummel for the delight of their cashed-up paymasters.

And don't believe any of the hype surrounding Toulouse as a club. This is without doubt one of the most hollow, soulless RL experiences you'll find anywhere in the 13-man world.

Their club is a facade - a crowd of no more than 500 belying their supposed huge potential; a professional band hired in to play for the full 80 minutes to drown out the embarrassing silence; the playing of crowd noise over the tannoy to create a karaoke atmosphere; the over-excited tannoy announcer single handedly leading the crowd chant when the home side are attacking; the playing of music during breaks in play (scrums, injuries). Any one of these would ruin your afternoon...

And then there's the way Toulouse play: fast & direct, yes - but leaving something in every tackle on attack and defence. And seeing Jonathan Ford reduced to begging for penalties after every tackle is just embarrassing.

Hornets ripped in from the off, but two breaks against the run of play saw the home side exploit Hornets' right edge to sneak two tries in two minutes from Kheralla and Minga (TBC).

But Hornets dug in and for 20 minutes clawed their way back into the game. But as it looked like the visitors were making headway, Jo Taira was sin-binned after tracking back to stem a huge TO break. This gave TO some momentum, and when Ford's punt & hope kick bounced freakishly behind a retreating Hornets defence, it was a let off when three chasing 'Frenchmen' failed to touch down.

Having ridden out the one man deficit, Hornets drove the home side back onto their own goal-line, where Jono Smith stepped wide to score. Crooky the extras, and the home fans really edgy at 10-6.

With Hornets now in the ascendancy, TO came up with a heartbreaking play: Ford's break, Minga's chip and Planas gathering to send TO in 16-6 up at the break.

The second half was a battle: ugly, brutal and punishing as an accelerating penalty count frayed nerves and tempers. Jo Taira set the tone after just two minutes when a shuddering hit on the TO 9 Bentley left him in a crumpled heap. Having dared to offer resistance, TO's response was to start a fight at the next tackle - Hornets seen as transgressors despite TO's repeated habit of leading with the elbow.

And when Ford was put on his arse, he went crying to Mr Bloem who duly gave a penalty. When the home side knocked on the resulting play, Ford continued his skriking to the officials. Pathetic.

Indeed, when Hulme caught Hornets napping at a scrum to score after 46 minutes, it carried a sense of injustice.

Hornets continued to push and probe, but the effort was beginning to take its toll: Mike Ratu clearly struggling, Jake Shoel removed with an arm injury, Danny Yates hit high, requiring repeated treatment.

As the defence reshuffled to accommodate Alex Trumper, Minga capitalised off a pass so forward even the home fans were stunned. 28-6 and the game pretty much gone.

On the Hour, Hulme took advantage of two fights happening in back play to plant the ball under the black dot. Mr Bloem consulted his French Touch Judge, gave TO a team warning - and went and gave the try. Unbelievable.

A minute later, Lewis Galbraith was sin-binned after complaining that his opposite number had led with an elbow; and when Ben Moores followed four minutes later for defending himself, TO took cruel advantage of an 11 man Hornets.

First Planas spinning out of a tired tackle to score, then Minga taking the scenic route to outpace the chasing cover from 80 metres: easy with a two man advantage.

So, final score 46-6: but the score doesn't tell the tale. Hornets threw the kitchen sink at TO and had them visibly rattled. But two spells playing short and the home side's desperate histrionics to con penalties took a heavy toll.

In the end, the home fans (basically friends and family and an entourage of hangers-on) were delighted to have effectively secured top spot.

And, while the circumstances of the win were soul-destroying - Hornets came away from Toulouse knowing that at least our club has a soul to destroy.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Saturday's Coming: Toulouse Pt 2

"Whatever our competitors, we want to do even better than last time, and this is especially true against Rochdale."

The giddiness increased this week in Toulouse as Olympique prepared for what they see as the ‘title decider’.

Toulouse Sports (@TlsSports) tweeted:  “If @TOXIII beats @RochdaleHornets Saturday in Blagnac they will be assured of hosting the final for the title (In practice, the draw is enough)”

Toulouse (@TOXIII ) responded: “Exactly. But we prefer not to take risks, and we will seek victory.”

Their preview features an interview with their Aussie Fullback Mark Kheirallah. Again - all dodgy translation is down to my lousy French and a bit of Google Translate (I think they use the word 'shock' as we would use the word 'Challenge').

Mark Kheirallah speaking on the possibility of a shock against Rochdale on Saturday.

After a first away trip in the Super 8 was very well negotiated against Doncaster ( 18-38 ), the Toulouse Olympique preparing its next home game, facing Rochdale Hornets , second in the ranking, this Saturday, August 20th at Stade Ernest-Argelès in Blagnac .

On this occasion, the TO XIII fullback Mark Kheirallah confided about his state of form , that of the team , and of this decisive shock to come.

Mark Kheirallah: Personally, I feel good. I am pleased to evolve in this championship with the team, opponents are strong but we are doing the job, allowing us to play our game and have fun. At this stage of the competition, I think it will be difficult to stop us. I am confident enough to think that because I have confidence in my team and in our work.

Can you repeat your last win against Doncaster which took place this weekend?

Mark Kheirallah: We knew it would be complicated and they would put in a performance against us. And they showed some good things, I found that there were really good players, who stuck to us for 80 minutes. They relied on their power and we had to work to keep them away until the end. We did the job.

This weekend, another big shock awaits the TO, this time at home against the Rochdale Hornets - how the group feels the approach of this meeting?

Mark Kheirallah: This is a game we all look forward to, and we look forward to it. The first time we had not done the job until the end, but this time we will make every effort to achieve it. In case of victory, we can ensure first place in the ranking of the Super 8, so this is a crucial game for the rest of the competition.

Is the preparation different for this kind of game at stake?

Mark Kheirallah: No. As usual, the drives are focused on small details that can turn the match in our favor. We focus on mistakes that could cost us previously and the elements of which we are not satisfied, easily rectifiable with work. Whatever our competitors, we want to do even better than last time, and this is especially true against Rochdale. We want to play at the highest level, and for this, it may work and rework on basic things, but fundamental.

In case of victory, the TO is assured of a place in the final at home. What is the feeling of the team deal with this?

Mark Kheirallah: We are all very excited to win this game. That would be really a real chance for the team to play a final at home, and to offer this show to our fans. Obviously, there is some pressure but we make sure to put it aside, or we use it to move forward. I think we have very smart players that do not get distracted, focused on their goals. Certainly we are a young team (Note: 23 years of average age) but we also have players with a lot of experience that make benefit the entire group. We will do the job to give us the chance to reach the Championship.

So ready for the end of the season?

Mark Kheirallah: Yes. After Rochdale, we will remain three games: two consecutive trips to London in Skolars (26/08) and then Hunslet (03/09), and a final home game against Barrow Raiders (10/09) which is the form team of the moment. It will take us to remain cautious although we are pleased that our work is paying off. We looking forward to September to see if we have fulfilled our deal and finally take a rest (laughs).

The game takes place at the at stadium Ernest Argelès in the suburb of Blagnac at 6pm.
The referee for Saturday's game is Jamie Bloem, with French touch judges.