French rugby league holds its breath as Toulouse fights to avoid relegation | Super League
Jhe bottom of the Super League table is miserable reading for those of us who hoped Toulouse Olympique would survive or even thrive this season. But it is towards 2024 that we must turn: this is when Toulouse must jostle for a place at the top, ready to take its place as soon as a new competition format is confirmed.
With just two wins in their first 15 Super League games, it’s safe to assume that Toulouse are already down. This is not the case, although their fate will probably be decided in July. Even if they lose at Wigan on Friday night, they will be just six points behind going into their next home game against Hull KR. Then come successive meetings with three of the four teams immediately above them: Wakefield at the Magic weekend, and Leeds and Salford at home.
Toulouse could win three and be invigorated for trips to Hull KR and Warrington to follow. The club are hoping the home crowd will support them in their month of need – fans can buy tickets for all four home games in July for just €25 – knowing they need wins now given they face Wigan , Catalans and St Helens. , in their last four games of the campaign.
Coach Sylain Houles is making noise: yes, it was difficult but no, we didn’t give up. Even if they finish bottom, the shrewd Houles will have accomplished an astonishing feat: his Toulouse sides will have finished higher up the RFL ladder in each of his nine seasons in charge. Few coaches in world sport can say that. Toulouse will surely meet the 40-year-old’s demands if he is relegated.
Their season could so easily have been different. If Toulouse had won rather than lost by last-minute goals against Wigan and Huddersfield, or beaten one of their relegation rivals rather than St Helens by a few points, they would only have one drifting victory, not three .
Obviously they haven’t won enough games, but they’re not hammered every week. Their point difference is just -11.9 per game, and eight of their 13 losses have been by 12 points or less. If they were to score one more try and concede one less, their season would be transformed.
Another issue is that they peaked against the top teams in the competition, rather than their struggling comrades. They pushed Wigan, Catalans and Huddersfield all the way, but none of their five tightest defeats have come against the four teams still (just) within their reach. Pushing the best sides while comfortably beaten by those around you is useless for survival hopes.
Holidaying in the west of France last week seemed like a natural time to read sixties storm, Roger Grime’s book on the French rugby union team in a decade in which France played 50 international matches. They won half of their 20 Tests against Great Britain, beat Australia three times and their domestic game had enough appeal to have top-flight clubs in St-Étienne, Roanne and Mulhouse on the German border .
But seeing the media coverage of the Union Française Top 14 play-offs was disconcerting to a British league fan: Perpignan supporters swarmed the pitch waving Catalan flags after lying awake; 18,000 at the Stade Ernest Wallon a few hours after 3,300 saw Castleford beat the TO there; 27,000 people in the historic Stade du Parc Lescure in Bordeaux, the scene of so many magical rugby union matches, including France beating Australia in 1963; rugby league clubs wins Tarn and Provence in prime time and on the front page of the sports daily L’Équipe while the Dragons’ last victory was only pronounced in two sentences, the defeat of Toulouse only one and a photo of Matty Russell. It was hard not to feel envious.
At least the presence of Toulouse Olympique has allowed another dozen French players to gain Super League experience. That alone isn’t going to help hugely when France take on England and Samoa in the World Cup, but their federation are aiming for a successful 2025 at home and, having lost their last six World Cup matches, those responsible surrender. realize that beating Greece in October would be the start of their recovery. How France perform over the next two years will have a big impact on the IRL rankings ahead of the 2025 World Cup, for which they automatically qualify as hosts.
Beating Wales 34-10 on Sunday was a start. While there were ten Dragons in the France team, only two Toulouse players were established, and two others on the bench. Having a national team with players from only two clubs poses problems: just look at Italy and Scotland in rugby union. In sixties storm, Grime writes: “Too much was asked of too few elite players.” This rings true today as much as it did then. At least with Toulouse in the Super League, the full-time talent pool is expanding, but perhaps only until September.
However, it is still rare for a national player to be chosen by the Dragons or Olympique over one of their overseas imports, especially in creative positions. With the Dragons spending heavily on England captain Sam Tomkins at full-back and highly effective Australian duo Josh Drinkwater and Mitchell Pearce (and before him James Maloney), the sublimely talented Arthur Mourgue has to fill in wherever he can. For a time this spring, such were Toulouse’s injury troubles, Houles appeared to pick his halfback pairing by picking names from a hat. Now he’s opted for Lucas Albert alongside NRL veteran Corey Norman, with Tony Gigot out of favor.
Despite Huddersfield’s Theo Fages being injured, France coach Laurent Frayssinous and director Trent Robinson chose teenager Cesar Rouge, over Albert, on Sunday to partner 23-year-old team-mate Mourgue. With so few chances at the Dragons, Rouge’s next game will be on loan at Whitehaven on Sunday. Frayssinous and Robinson are clearly looking to the future, ignoring a trio of 31-year-old internationals (Gigot, Stan Robin and Dane Chisholm). When Mourgue aggravated an ankle injury on Sunday, full-back Morgan Escare entered half-time.
Salford keeper Escare was the only English player in the France squad, a role assumed by Jérôme Guissett on another scorching June day in Albi 22 years ago, when Houles and Frayssinous contributed to the 56 points that France put on an Irish team led by a captain. hot and bothered Barrie McDermott. The rest of this France squad came from eight French clubs, as was the case when France beat Wales in 1963 and 1969.
Having Toulouse in the Super League is not an elixir to all the problems of French rugby union. The French sporting public would benefit from noticing this, given that to date, only two Olympique matches have been broadcast live. But their presence gives the code a huge opportunity.
If they fall this fall, Toulouse will have to keep their cool. They are likely to be replaced by Leigh, meaning Toulouse would likely face competition mainly from Featherstone for promotion in 2023. By then the elite competition format could be set to to change.
The Super League needs a second French club if new partners IMG are to hope to monetize the Catalans’ success for the benefit of the whole game. Houles has said it many times. But whether completion develops or not, Toulouse know their best chance of a comeback would be instantaneous.
world cup watch
With six debutants, Wales could be satisfied with their performance in Albi last Sunday. Without Regan Grace and Gil Dudson, John Kear’s only Super League regular was Salford full-back Rhys Williams, whose record 31st appearance is even more impressive considering Wales hadn’t played a game. international for 31 months.
At the end of this weekend, only Australia, Greece, Ireland and Italy of this year’s 16 men’s World Cup teams will still not have played since November 2019. Italy, however , confirmed a stellar new management team for the World Cup. : Head coach Leo Epifania – the former York boss – will be joined by World Cup-winning coach Tim Sheens as technical director, former Hull FC lock Tony Grimaldi on strength and conditioning, former double international Terry Campese as assistant coach, and Tas Baitieri as team manager.
One more thing
Tucked away in the yellow pages of the famous bi-weekly bible of French rugby Midi-Olympic was a report on Pia Donkeys’ golden point victory over Baho in the Elite 2 Final, watched by nearly 3,000 spectators at the Brute. Pia must now confirm that they are ready to become the 10th team in Elite 1, after the competition was held with just nine teams last season following the demise of Palau Broncos. While some may scoff at another Catalan village club breaking into the top flight, Pia are four-time national champions, last time out just a decade ago, shortly after years of unachievable signing of imports notables overseas eventually caught up with them and they broke down. at the top. Their return should be welcomed.