Toulouse flair sees off Knights in maiden play off: Saturday 14th September - Betfred Championship
Toulouse Olympique maintained their ascendancy over York City Knights this year as James Ford’s injury-hit troops were unable to suppress the flamboyant French flair in the opening Betfred Championship play-off.
The two league matches could have gone either way, with Toulouse edging both and ultimately finishing one point and one place above the Knights in second spot in the table.
At 44-6, though, this victory was more clear-cut, with the home team underlining their ability to score from anywhere on the field with a glut of terrific tries. When it goes wrong, such enterprising play can be punished. When it goes right, as it did in the main here, they can beat anyone – as it showed earlier in the season when they ended the otherwise unbeaten Toronto’s 100 per cent record.
Their reward – if that is the right word – is a trip to the table-topping Wolfpack for a qualifying semi-final, while York get a second chance with a knockout tie at home to the winners of Leigh and Featherstone.
York and Toulouse could easily meet again in an elimination semi-final the week after, and, if so, the Knights will have to find a way to quell the French fire, not least that of nationalised Aussie Mark Kheirallah.
The darting, daring full-back was unplayable at times, scoring two tries and having a big hand in two others, as well as adding extras with the boot.
York, for their part, will hope to have some of their own big guns back, with the influential Graeme Horne and Jason Bass, so unfortunate to be crocked in the last game of the regular season at Halifax last week, both failing fitness tests as expected and thus joining the likes of impact hooker Kriss Brining, big winger Perry Whiteley and pack grafter Joe Porter on the sidelines.
However, there was no sign of those injury woes abating here – just the opposite in fact, with Liam Salter and Will Oakes, both clearly in pain, exiting in the second half.
Salter had switched to centre in Bass’s stead, with Mike Kelly starting in the second row, while fellow forwards Josh Jordan-Roberts and Jack Blagbrough were recalled onto the bench.
The ever-willing Will Jubb was again asked to do 80 minutes at hooker.
Toulouse had all their big hitters and creative talents on display, and they took an early lead as two penalties put the Knights on the back foot, with points machine Kheirallah going for goal with the second.
The full-back was also to the fore in a wonderful, off-the-cuff move which ended with Paul Marcon getting the first try – an attacking incision that was a sign of things to come.
A couple of earlier York turnovers were then compounded when Marcus Stock, in attempting a quick play-the-ball, was penalised for an incorrect effort, claims of interference and a penalty the other way being ignored.
Toulouse duly increased their lead as Aussie aces Johnathon Ford and Kheirallah combined almost telepathically, with the latter racing onto the former’s kick.
Two minutes later, the hosts were at it again, this time Rhys Curran, their other Aussie, being the architect as Kheirallah got his second try. The full-back also added both conversions.
On this occasion, however, Ford dropped the restart and York got in on the act as a fine move direct from the scrum to the far left was finished excellently by Matt Chilton diving into the corner.
Connor Robinson booted a superb touchline goal.
The Knights, having worked hard to get themselves back into the game, pushed again close to half-time, with Ronan Dixon halted short and Liam Harris’ kick earning a drop-out.
However, with York having the upper hand, the game changed in a flash as Kheirallah split the defence in centre-field and launched a long pass left. Winger Gavin Marguerite then picked up an impossible ball around his ankles and finished one-handed in the corner.
It was another stunning try and gave the hosts a perhaps flattering 22-6 interval lead from which there would be no way back, the visitors instead toiling in the hot sun.
York had a lucky escape ten minutes into the second half as a loose pass was picked up by Joe Bretherton with acres of green in front of him, only for the Toulouse sub to inexplicably drop the ball on the run.
However, Kheirallah was soon at it again as the hosts forced a drop-out and yet again when smartly collecting an offload and breaking the line once more, before flipping a try-scoring pass to Anthony Marion and converting.
With the game gone, York suffered another blow with the departure of Salter.
More pain duly followed as a 40-20 set the platform for a fine finish by Mathieu Jussaume, the conversion making it 34-6.
Marcon had a further try ruled out for offside as Toulouse’s unpredictable ball movement caused problems again, but, again, from a kick, they soon upped their lead as the tall stand-off Ford leapt highest to collect and cross. Kheirallah’s conversion made it 40-6.
The icing on the French cake came on the hooter as Stanislas Robin stepped through to complete the comprehensive victory.
The Knights now turn their attentions to the visit of Featherstone Rovers this Saturday (21st September, 3pm) in a do or die Betfred Championship play off elimination semi final at Bootham Crescent. Tickets are available online now HERE.
Toulouse: Kheirallah; Marcon, Jussaume, Ader, Marguerite; Robin, Ford; Vaivai, Marion, Puech, Mika, Curran, Bell. Subs (all used): Barthau, Evans, Hepi, Bretherton.
Tries: Marcon (15) Kheirallah (23, 25), Marguerite (40) Marion (54) Jussaume (63), Ford (70) Robin (80).
Goals: Kheirallah (6/9).
Knights: Marsh, Chilton, Hey, Salter, Oakes, Harris, Robinson, Baldwinson, Jubb, Stock, Kelly, Scott, Spears. Subs (all used): Dixon, Teanby, Jordan-Roberts, Blagbrough.
Try: Chilton (27).
Goal: Robinson (1/1).
Isaac Poad Man of the match: Will Jubb