A youthful York Knights side were comfortably beaten by leaders Toulouse Olympique 36-0 at the Stade Ernest-Wallon in Round Three of the Betfred Championship season this evening.

It marked a second loss of the season for the injury-hit Knights after a 12-19 defeat to Widnes Vikings at the LNER Community Stadium on the opening weekend, but it was a valiant performance from Andrew Henderson’s young squad against a strong Toulouse side who were utterly dominant throughout.

Five York-raised players were included in Henderson’s squad in the south of France, with former Heworth youngsters AJ Towse, Myles Harrison, Ben Barnard and Brad Ward named in the Knights’ starting line-up, and York Acorn product Harry Price making his debut from among the interchanges.

The Knights’ injury crisis was likened to drinking from a poisoned chalice earlier this week, with injuries to new signing James Cunningham and experienced full-back Matty Marsh in the first two rounds of the season adding to a long list that already includes Pauli Pauli, Ukuma Ta’ai, Ata Hingano and Jamie Ellis.

And more names were added to that tonight in France, with Ireland international Ronan Michael withdrawn on the stroke of half time five minutes after coming off the bench, with a suspected concussion that will likely see him miss the Knights’ home fixture against Barrow Raiders next weekend, Barnard finishing the match with strapping, and Towse pulling up with a knock late on.

Australian hooker Josh Daley, who scored his first competitive try for York in their 32-16 victory against Bradford Bulls on Monday night, was suspended following a charge for a Grade C dangerous throw against Widnes in Round One, while both James Glover and Jordan Thompson were also absent from Henderson’s squad.

A win in Toulouse was always likely to prove tough for the Knights, and they were left with even more of an uphill mountain to climb when Guy Armitage used his six feet five inches frame to his advantage to cross for two near-identical tries inside the game’s opening 10 minutes.

The former London Broncos winger completed his hat-trick shortly before the interval, before he, Olly Ashall-Bott, Reubenn Rennie and Mathieu Jussaume added their names to the scoresheet in the second half to see the hosts run in seven tries without reply.

But with Toulouse coming into the match off the back of a 58-0 victory against Newcastle Thunder in front of their home fans last Saturday, it was a ‘free hit’ that the Knights can take some positives from ahead of a much more winnable encounter in Round Four.

Henderson was expecting a strong challenge in the south of France, and that proved to be the case, with his young side behind after just four minutes.

Half-back Liam Harris conceded an error after a rushed pass in his direction, with Ashall-Bott finding Armitage with a cut-out pass to breeze past Harrison and touch down in the left corner.

From the touchline, former Wigan Warriors half-back Jake Shorrocks saw his conversion cannon back off the crossbar in the first of four missed goals on a disappointing evening from the tee.

The Knights were 10 points behind just four minutes later after Rennie, who earned a contract at Toulouse after an impressive run out for the Cook Islands at the Rugby World Cup, broke forward from deep inside his own half.

He found Armitage in a near carbon-copy of the opening try, with Brown unable to stop the tricky winger from crossing over for his second into the left corner. Shorrocks arrowed his conversion straight through the posts.

Barnard was substituted for the Knights with a head injury, with Armitage denied his hat-trick soon after when a combination of Liam Harris and Joe Brown scrambled the winger into touch.

That set up a rare attack for the Knights, with a grubber from makeshift half back Jesse Dee sending Leeds Rhinos product Levi Edwards through into the Toulouse half, but the Australian couldn’t keep hold of his return pass.

Shorrocks headed down the tunnel for a head injury assessment after a collision with Dee shortly after, but as soon as they had nearly found themselves on the scoresheet, the Knights were even further behind.

Ashall-Bott made it to his own 40 after collecting Harris’ kick before Toulouse won a penalty in front of the sticks from Danny Kirmond’s challenge, Anthony Marion making no mistake with the boot to add the two points.

Three drop-out’s in a row then saw the Knights pile pressure on their opponents, but Teanby lost possession of the ball agonisingly close to the line.

Toulouse completed the scoring in the first half five minutes before the interval with Ashall-Bott again left with too much time to find Armitage down the left. Shorrocks, who returned to the field, again missed the chance to add the extras, striking the left-hand post.

And there was more bad news for the Knights as Michael was withdrawn from the field with a suspected concussion after a big hit, the outcome of which ended the night for the big prop forward.

As expected, the Knights were low on possession and were restricted from offering much in attack, but they started the second period well, restarting from just short of halfway after a penalty for offside two minutes in.

There were positives defensively for Henderson’s side though as they forced Shorrocks to kick high from the 25-metre mark, but Harrison was put into touch as they tried to break forward down the right.

Toulouse edged further in front with 46 minutes gone through Rennie, who came out on top in his battle with Kirmond before evading a number of tackles to cut through the Knights defence to score. Shorrocks’ conversion again hit the posts, but still left Toulouse with a deserved 22-point advantage.

Harris’ attempted 40/20 then pushed Toulouse back into their own half before Paul Marcon fumbled the ball, but Harris’ pass was behind Bailey Antrobus as York looked to capitalise on the scrum.

The hosts soon crossed the whitewash again however as the Knights defence began to tire, Ashall-Bott scoring the pick of the tries with a fine individual effort after a 35-metre break down the left wing. Shorrocks’ conversion flew wide of the posts.

Centre Mathieu Jussaume was next over for Toulouse on 71 minutes, and this time Shorrocks made no mistake to convert.

Armitage rounded off the scoring a minute and a half from time to add gloss to the scoreline for Toulouse, with Shorrocks again missing the conversion, though the result was never in doubt for the leaders, who remain top of the table and unbeaten on six points from their three games thus far.  

The Knights will be hoping to return to winning ways at home to Barrow, who are winless heading into their match at Swinton Lions tomorrow, in front of their home fans on Sunday (3pm).

TOULOUSE OLYMPIQUE: Ashall-Bott, Armitage, Rennie, Jussaume, Marcon, Shorrocks, Ralph, Hansen, Peyroux, Stefani, Belmas, Marion, Bretherton.

INTERCHANGES: Pelissier, Akauola, Pezet, Richards

TRIES: Armitage (4, 8, 35, 78), Rennie (46), Ashall-Bott (64), Jussaume (71)

GOALS: Shorrocks 3/7, Marion 1/1

YORK KNIGHTS: Brown, Towse, Edwards, Ward, Harrison, Dee, Harris, Kirby, Jubb, Fitzsimmons, Antrobus, Kirmond, Barnard.

INTERCHANGES: Clarkson, Michael, Teanby, Price

YORK’S STAR MAN: Bailey Antrobus, who was one of several Knights players who gave it their all in defence this evening.

REFEREE: Aaron Moore