Toulouse Olympique XIII´s Super League light was burning dimly and a loss in tonight’s ´Le Derby´ to the Catalans Dragons would finally extinguish it, regardless of the results for Warrington and Wakefield. The Dragons themselves needed a win to keep up the pressure on Huddersfield in third spot, but more importantly to re-open the three-point margin over the Leeds Rhinos who are now breathing down their necks for fourth spot and who they face on Monday night in Perpignan.
The bookies favoured the Dragons despite their recent lack of form at the crucial end of the season, but it was indicative of the strength of Toulouse that they only gave the competitions fourth placed side an eight-point handicap on the coupon.
This was likely to be the last competitive French derby for some time and bragging rights were up for grabs as Catalans made the two-hundred-kilometre trip north, determined to bring back the points and end a run which has seen them lose on their last two outings, and only win two out of their last seven.
The Dragons took just four minutes to open the scoring when the ever-dependable Fouad Yaha went over in the left-hand corner. Josh Drinkwater pushed his touchline kick across the front of the posts, 4-0 after eight minutes.
Yaha´s second came on eleven, this time taking a delightful pass from Sam Tomkins to summersault over the line. This time Drinkwater´s kick was on target but fell short of the crossbar.
The Yaha hat-trick came on twenty-five after patient build-up from the Dragons, a looping pass from Matt Whitley perfectly placed for the winger to go over again in the corner. Once again, Drinkwater was off target with the boot, his side 12-0 ahead.
The Toulouse crowd were finally given something to cheer on thirty-five as Chris Hankinson ran the angle, and despite a great initial effort from Tyrone May in holding the ball up, he eventually managed to force the ball onto the ground. The Toulouse stand-off added the conversion to his own try to reduce the lead to six points.
On the half-time hooter Josh Drinkwater was sin-binned for a professional foul as he slowed the play and Hankinson kicked the resulting penalty to send the sides in separated by just four points.
Ten minutes after the restart Alrix Da Costa passed to Gil Dudson to step outside Justin Sangare and dive for the line. May took over the kicking duties and added the conversion for 18-8.
Within a couple of minutes May chipped the ball towards the posts and caught the rebound off the post pad to drop over the line for the try. He added the conversion himself to establish plenty of breathing space.
With five minutes remaining Olly Ashall-Bott broke the line and put in a kick but was obstructed as he chased by Sam Tomkins, the Dragons full back sin-binned for his indiscretion. Within two minutes a Cunningham offload found Ashall-Bott who went sixty to score under the sticks and give Hankinson a simple conversion for 14-24.
It was the last roll of the dice for Toulouse and despite a little flourish at the end of the game they lost with little ceremony. If there had previously been any doubt it was now certain that they would ply their trade in the Championship next season. The Dragons have bought themselves some breathing space in fourth spot and even if they lose against the Rhinos on Monday they will still secure a home game in the play-offs with a win in their final outing of the season against Wigan.
Toulouse Olympique XIII: Ashall-Bott (T), Schaumkel, Armitage, Marcon, Bergal, Hankinson (T, 3G), Albert, Navarrete, Peats, Alvaro, Dixon, Stefani, Cunningham. Subs: Pelissier, Puech, Belmas, Sangare.
Catalans Dragons: Tomkins (SB on 75), Yaha (3T), Laguerre, Whare, Davies, Drinkwater, May (T, 2G), Napa, Da Costa, Seguier, Whitley, Chan J, Garcia. Subs: Langi, Dudson (T), Goudemand, Rougé.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-8, 0-12, 4-12, 6-12, 8-12, (SB) : HT : 8-16, 8-18, 8-22, 8-24, 12-24, 14-24 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Catalans.
Referee: Liam Moore.