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Match report: York City Knights 32, Toulouse Olympique 46
Duane Straugheir was one of the few York City Knights players to emerge with any credit from Saturday’s costly defeat to Toulouse
YORK City Knights followed their best performance of the season with arguably their worst and in doing so put themselves right back in relegation peril.
They had been warned the wins over Dewsbury and high-riding Batley would count for little if they didn’t see off bottom side Toulouse at Huntington Stadium.
Indeed, the French outfit had been thrashed 90-10 at Featherstone last week and – while that was partly put down to the fact they’d just learned from the French federation they’d be withdrawn from the Championship, notice which is yet to be ratified – their awful first-half showing on Saturday night showed why.
However, York didn’t heed that warning, and, barring a rampant five-try 15-minute spell, which possibly even added to the complacency among the home ranks, they were just as bad.
Then, in the second half, as Toulouse came to life, the Knights, despite further warnings of a French backlash, simply died, as underlined by the 46-32 scoreline.
The hosts had a ready-made excuse in the performance of referee Ronnie Laughton, a regular pantomime villain at Huntington Stadium who gave so many bog-eyed decisions this time he could have been wearing an eye patch.
But the stage was set for a decent win nonetheless, only for the actors to completely forget their lines.
Boss Dave Woods had brought both James Haynes and Ben Jones back into his 17 after injury, with Steve Lewis and Brett Waller unlucky to miss out having played their part against Batley.
But he must be wishing he’d made many more changes, his players having perhaps taken in too much of their own good press after recent improved performances.
The Aussie gave them a five-minute dressing down on the pitch after the game, and a conflab among the coaching team continued once the players had been despatched to the sheds.
“Was that the same team that beat Batley?” queried one flabbergasted spectator.
Well, the names were the same, but that was about it.
It was all underlined by the goalkicking. Tom Bush missed three of four – ironically goaling the hardest – and James Haynes missed one of two. Ryan Esders took over the duties on the final hooter when two points would have at least garnered a bonus point – but he missed.
Toulouse had lost pack leader Brendan Worth among others, and showed eight changes to the side that lost to York at Easter.
They threw a couple of youngsters into the line-up along with former La Rochelle and Pau rugby union player Mathieu Mercier, who, while having played top-16 standard 15-a-side in France, was making his rugby league debut on the wing.
They still took the lead through Greg White amid a scrappy opening in which both sides tried to out-do each other’s awfulness.
When York got their act together on 15 minutes it seemed they would run amok.
Anthony Thackeray’s fine pass saw Esders break clear on half-way and superb centre-wing play by Esders and Dennis Tuffour saw Esders score.
Another one-two involving Esders, with a wonderful offload, then saw Jack Lee score a belter.
Soon enough, Dave Sutton finished well after his centre, James Ford, displayed great hands.
Then Nathan Freer – who got his first try in two years against Batley – got his second in two games. It looked like the wrong play as the prop ran onto the ball on the last tackle eight yards out, but he simply barged through.
The try-scoring continued as Matt Garside, York’s top scorer this year, added to his tally from a Jonny Presley pass.
Toulouse were at sixes and sevens but hit back through Eric Anselme from a superb little pass by Tony Gigot.
They had been helped in the build-up by referee Laughton who awarded them a penalty for offside to spare their blushes after yet another handling error.
That assistance continued after the break with a variety of decisions that drew anger from the home crowd.
Crucial calls by Laughton came in the build-up to tries by Bruno Ormeno, replacement prop Patelise Pelo, who in particular began the second half on fire, and Craig Cook.
Toulouse were also helped by the fact their hosts simply allowed them to get on top.
Haynes stopped the rot with a good finish, but the errors continued – Thackeray failing to find touch with a penalty, Tuffour fluffing a bomb, and gaps opening for Ormeno to score again.
Ford had a try ruled out for poor grounding before half-back Thackeray, who had a particularly frustrating day at the office, again amazingly failed to find touch with a penalty and Tim Wynn scored.
Crucially, Ford had a second try ruled out, this time even more controversially for a supposed forward pass, and Toulouse sealed their win with a wonderful try by White, Nicholls adding his seventh conversion.
Garside’s second try should have gleaned a bonus point for York’s battle to beat the drop – but Esders’ haste saw that too go begging.
Knights: Bush 5, Sutton 6, Ford 5, Esders 6, Tuffour 5, Thackeray 4, Presley 5, Freer 6, Lee 6, Benson 6, Straugheir 7, Garside 6, Clarke 6.
Subs (all used): Smith 6, Haynes 6, Jones 5, Aldous 5.
Tries: Esders 15; Lee 18; Sutton 22; Freer 26; Garside 30, 80; Haynes 57.
Conversions: Bush 22; Haynes 30.
Drop goals: None.
Toulouse: Bromley, White, Tisserye, Ormeno, Mercier, Nicholls, Gigot, Wynn, Gigord, Gout, Moliner, Maria, Houles.
Subs (all used): Larroyer, Pelo, Anselme, Cook.
Tries: White 4, 72; Anselme 36; Ormeno 42, 61; Pelo 49; Cook 53; Wynn 67.
Conversions: Nicholls 4, 36, 49, 53, 61, 67, 72.
Drop goals: None.
Man of the match: Duane Straugheir – in stark contrast to last week’s win over Batley, it was more about who was the least worst than the most best, but Straugheir was one of few who could hold their head up at the end.
Referee: Ronnie Laughton (Barnsley) – did his absolute utmost to maintain the myth that the Knights have never won with this pantomime villain in charge.
Penalty count: 7-9.
Weather: bright evening sun.
Moment of the match: Ryan Esders’ try, having played a superb one-two with Dennis Tuffour, was the pick amid the Knights’ first-half purple patch.
Gaffe of the match: the second half.
Gamebreaker: Greg White’s second try ended any hopes of York getting the spoils.
Match rating: after recent highs, the Knights came crashing back to earth with a bang.