Posted in match reports

Vue de la tribune nord: Toulouse 45 Sale 19 [HCC]

I think I’ve said this before but you know that aphorism that it’s better to expect the worst, then you’re not disappointed? Yeah, that one. It’s a load of old bo— not true.

At the end of the match, I was very tempted to just put out a one-word report and leave it at that. Still, the faces of the Toulousains around town that evening gave the result a bit of perspective, so here I am, in a Starbucks in Toulouse (I know, but I wanted more volume of coffee than you get in regular cafés) trying to get my thoughts in order.

The first thing I want to do is recall my complaint from last week and acknowledge that, if Sale played badly, it’s because Stade Toulousain didn’t let them play well. Seriously, how are you expected to compete against a side whose second XV is composed almost entirely of internationals? Especially when you’re still down to second-choice half-backs, third-choice centre and a full-back who hasn’t for some time. Add to that the withdrawal of a key forward at the last minute, and it’s no surprise that we got blown away by a superior team.

It didn’t start like that, of course. When Bev added football to his skill set for the first try after only one minute, we thought that maybe the unlikely was a possibility. They soon disabused us of that ray of hope by cutting us open down the middle just three minutes later to level up. By halfway through the half, they’d done it two more times and we were now 19–7 behind and staring down the barrel.

The thing is that all the things that we didn’t do against Ulster (knock-ons, silly penalties, squint throw-ins, etc) came back in spades for this game. With no momentum behind us, we couldn’t make inroads and only our legendary defence kept the score vaguely respectable through the following twenty minutes, including the inevitable yellow card. When we finally managed to bully Akker over the line on the stroke of halftime to pull the deficit back to seven, we were able to hope that the team had pulled themselves together, stopped being overawed and would be serious contenders in the second half.


The second half started badly, with Byron being shown yellow, and went downhill from there. Sale couldn’t seem to do anything right, whereas Toulouse were throwing the ball around, cutting lines through Sale’s defence and almost scoring at will. O’Flats got carded (what for? The ref seemed to run halfway across the pitch, wave a card at him and run back), and the gap got bigger and bigger until we were expecting a cricket score by the end.

Yeah, that ending…

From our seats at the other end of the pitch, what we saw was Sale pushing hard for a try, then Toulouse seeming to get a turnover and running the length of the pitch to score under the posts. What made it even worse was the symbolic nature of bringing up the fifty.

(At this point, a whole slew of Toulouse fans started leaving the stadium. More fools them.)

Then the ref looked to stop the conversion and we became aware of a fracas up the other end. Ref trots all the way up there and, next thing we know, he’s doing the old “it’s this shape” with his hands. Frustratingly, the screen at our end was at a ridiculous angle, whilst the one at the other end was too far away to see anything clearly.

We could see what appeared to be a Curry pushing a Toulouse player in the face during the fracas, and I’m thinking, “oh, oh…”. But then we’re looking at a possible touchdown, but it might have been lost forward, then something else that wasn’t clear, then more Curry hand-in-face and back and forth and what is going on?

And then the ref is talking to the Toulouse fullback and pulling out a red card. W, as it were, T, as you say, F? Anyway, they’re down to 14, we’re trying to maul to the line, another penalty, another maul and then, such was my confusion at events, what I thought was a penalty to them. “So why are we holding the ball?” I was thinking. “Oh, the penalty was to us”, I concluded. “Then why are we going for the three points? That’s useless”. It took me a ridiculous amount of time to work out that it was a conversion being kicked.

I cannot remember a weirder ending to a game in nearly thirty years of watching.

Thoughts: we were given a lesson in how to play by a team backed by more money than we could dream of. Also, we’re not out of it yet; we can make amends and still progress, unlike France later on, who now have to wait four years and start all over again. I think we were the less depressed ones that evening.

I’m more irritated by the lack of joined-up thinking that means we play a Sunday fixture in the south of France five days before an evening fixture in the north of England. The various competitions (and BT) have to talk to each other and try to get some semblance of an equitable schedule.

Speaking of Newcastle, Friday’s game marks the halfway point of the season, so we can finally get an accurate statement of where we are in the league. It’s going to be tricky, having put our first-teamers through both HCC games, whereas it looks as if the Falcons have been resting players in their Challenge cup matches. A tired second-placed team versus a fresh tenth? Who can tell? SAMP™ prediction is…

SAMP–5Newcastle 16 Sale 17
SAMP–10Newcastle 16 Sale 17

Ah, sod it, toss a coin…

Meanwhile, have some pictures of Toulouse:



Photographer and science geek. Rugby fan (Sale Sharks).