York City Knights 54, Toulouse 28

11:30am Monday 12th March 2007

By Peter Martini

IT'S pretty rare for a player to score four tries in 14 minutes but still get overshadowed by a team performance.

That fate befell second-row Ian Brown yesterday as York City Knights shocked French championship leaders Toulouse to win a remarkable Challenge Cup third round tie 54-28.

Everything the veteran touched turned to gold before he was carried off on 34 minutes with a knee injury. But if his injury was a blow, the performance of Mick Cook's men was the exact opposite.

The nicest day at Huntington Stadium this season heralded the Knights' best performance for some time. It was not the complete 80-minute display, but some of their attacking was as eye-catching as it was excellent, and of the ten touchdowns they scored, several are contenders for try of the season.

Unfortunately, with the French bringing few visiting fans, only 701 people - the Knights' worst home attendance since the club reformed - saw one of their most exciting performances. More fool those who didn't turn up.

The Knights got off to the perfect start as Anthony Thackeray caught the defence out with a little kick for Dave Buckley to score a first-minute try.

Buckley turned villain as he lost the ball in the next set and Toulouse punished him as David Delpoux scored.

But York extended the lead as Brown's fine flat pass put Lee Mapals down the flank and he returned the favour for the second-row to score.

If that was good, the next try was brilliant. Brown finished it well after a fine offload from Wray and good play from Thackeray and Rhodes.

The next try came on the back of a break by Mapals. Interplay in the red zone, this time from Rayner and Thackeray, again left Toulouse bemused as Brown barged in for an eight-minute hat-trick.

l from previous page Penalties had helped York in those opening exchanges and another set the field position from where stand-off Rhodes' perfectly-timed pass put Brown in on a great angle.

Scrum-half Thackeray - who justified his recall at the expense of the unlucky Andy Gargan - then dummied forward before getting the ball out for Mapals to dive home.

It wasn't particularly bad defending, rather excellent attacking, and it was 36-4.

Toulouse had little to celebrate and Samoan prop Peter Lima's joy at inflicting injury to York sub John Smith was unnecessary. Smith was okay, however, and continued to perform admirably up front.

He was filling in at prop due to the absence of the injured Tabua Cakacaka and Joe Helme, who had fire service commitments, and, while that meant York lacked size up front, none of the front-rowers - Adam Sullivan, young Toby Williams, Ryan MacDonald and Smith - shirked duties.

The French were getting frustrated but, with someone like MacDonald in the home ranks, York were not going to be intimidated.

The substitute prop's power upended an opponent and, although the referee awarded a penalty for lifting the ball-carrier above the horizontal', Toulouse wanted to extract their own punishment.

MacDonald extracted it back, and although he got sin-binned, so did Toulouse's Aussie forwards, Jamie McDonald and Matthew Jobson.

The Knights, though, lost a bit of structure, not helped by the loss of Brown, and Toulouse, despite being a man down, scored through Nicolas De Martini.

The visitors, having defended for most of the first half, tried to speed the game up after the interval and reduced the deficit further with an interception try by full-back De Martini after the Knights' basketball style briefly backfired.

However, Chris Spurr responded with a remarkable 80-yard solo try, giving four defenders the slip and showing wonderful pace in scoring the best individual try at Huntington Stadium for some time.

Luke Branighan benefited from a lucky bounce to score and add his second conversion to halve the deficit at 40-20, then Lima - the visitors' best performer alongside number five Fourcade Abasse - finished well to give the home supporters a few jitters as the 2005 semi-finalists threatened a comeback.

But those nerves were eased when the brilliant Mapals sprinted home for a 50-metre interception try to cement his man-of-the-match accolade. The game was over when Thackeray timed his pass to put Buckley clear and took the return pass to score.

Spurr supplemented his solo try with arguably the best team try of the season. Thackeray, Rayner and Elston made great ground and when it seemed winger Lee Lingard would be caught, he slipped out a pass for the onrushing centre to touch down.

It would have been a fitting way to end the scoring, but highly-rated Aussie Branighan, who was otherwise kept quiet, bagged a consolation at the other end.

Match facts

Carnegie Challenge Cup Round three

Sunday, March 11, 2007 at Huntington Stadium

Knights: Rayner 8, Mapals 9, Potter 8, C Spurr 9, Lingard 8, Rhodes 9, Thackeray 8, Williams 8, Wray 9, Sullivan 8, Brown 8, Buckley 9, Spicer 8. Subs (all used): Elston 8, Smith 8, MacDonald 8, Priestley 8.

Tries: Buckley 1; Brown 9, 13, 17, 23; Mapals 26, 67; Spurr 51, 73; Thackeray 71. Conversions: Wray 1, 9, 13, 17, 23, 26, 71. Penalties: None. Drop goals: None.

Sin-binned: MacDonald 30. Sent off: None.

Toulouse: De Martini, Olieu, Houles, Planas, Abasse, Branighan, Villegas, McDonald, Wynne, Small, Delpoux, Almarcha, Jobson. Subs (all used): Faure, Lima, Prizzon, Fabre.

Tries: Delpoux 4; De Martini 35, 49; Branighan 59, 76; Lima 65.

Conversions: Branighan 49, 59. Penalties: None. Drop goals: None.

Sin-binned: McDonald 30; Jobson 30. Sent off: None.

Man of the match

Man of the match: Lee Mapals - there were a lot of contenders but the young winger gets the nod for a superb display full of pace, vigour and skill.

Referee: Jamie Leahy (Dewsbury). Rating: Good.

Penalty count: 9-3

HT: 36-8Gamebreaker: The five tries - four by Ian Brown - in 17 first-half minutes, or Lee Mapals' second-half effort, which ended any chance of a French fightback.

Moment of the match: Chris Spurr's 80-yard try. He slipped between two tacklers and, when it looked like a defender would catch him, he noticeably clicked into turbo to give him the slip and outpace the full-back on the outside for the most eye-catching try for some time.

Attendance: 701

Weather: breezy but pleasant.

Match rating: Not a complete performance by York but some of their movement, support and handling was almost impossible to defend against.

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