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Super League kicked off on 29 March 1996 with a French team in the comp when short-lived Paris St Germain hosted Sheffield Eagles in the new competition's first game of the summer era.

Now, 26 years and two weeks later, the league saw it's first all-French derby when Toulouse Olympique visited Perpignan's Stade Gilbert Brutus to take on Catalan Dragons in the Easter "rivals round".

The teams had met in a pre-season friendly, and both clubs' reserve outfits play in the French Elite 1 league - but this was their first all-professional meeting with serious competition points at stake.

The TOXIII outfit had first use of the ball and carried it to half-way before kicking and showed their intent in tackles - to the extent of giving away a set restart.

This was followed by a penalty gifted to the Catalan side in their 10m zone,  though when Michael McIlorum powered over the line they held him up. And to relieve the pressure, the Dragons gave away penalty as they started the next set seeking to play out of their 20m.

But it was the hosts' Fouad Yaha who opened the scoring on six minutes. The Toulouse defence had been condensing in field, leaving space on their left. The Dragons took advantage when Yaha was clear on the right with empty space in front of him and ran 30+ metres to touch the ball down.

Josh Drinkwater, kicking in the absence of the injured Sam Tomkins, couldn't convert from the touchline, but the Dragons were 4-0 up.

Toulouse thought they had equalised when Justine Sangare powered over through three tacklers under the posts, but grounded the ball short. Referee Robert Hacks had already signalled a set restart and six tackles later it was Paul Marcon's turn to be stopped just short of the line when he collected a high kick from former Dragons favourite Tony Gigot.

Catalans still led, but Toulouse had shown that they could be an attacking threat.

Neverthless, it was the Dragons who scored next when Mike McMeeken ran into contact and offloaded to Joe Chan who trotted forward to score under the posts. Drinkwater made no mistake from that position and the hosts lead was now 10-0.

And to add to Olympique's woe, Matty Russell was shown a yellow card for a professional foul. Catalans moved the ball out wide to Yaha on the right who once again faced an empty space where the reduced Toulouse defence should have been and ran in to score in the same corner as his first try.

But again, Drinkwater missed the conversion. The score was 14-0.

But with the final seconds of the half ticking away, Catalan fullback Tyrone May failed to collect a Gigot kick, Toulouse regained possession and Guy Armitage scored in the corner, with Dragons defenders clinging onto him. Chris Hankinson wasn't phased by the touchline kick and converted to make the score 14-6.

When the half-time hooter sounded it brought an end to a good half of rugby league that was tighter than many observers would have expected. Toulouse, with only one league win before this, were looking worthy of their place in Super League - after all that win was against last year's grand final winners St Helens.

When the match resumed though, it was less than a minute old before Eloi Pelissier replaced Russell in the sin bin, coming in late and leaping high for a shoulder charge on Sam Kasian, who already had two tacklers on him.

The 12 men of TOXIII defended well, though with some dubious moments, for eight minutes until Matt Whitley crossed the line after a clever pass from Drinkwater. Again though, Drinkwater couldn't convert from out wide.

But the Dragons had extended their lead to 18-6. But just minutes later, they conceded a penalty for a dangerous tackle by Chan - which saw him sent off for the rest of the game - and Matty Russell on the Olympique left wing took advantage of the numberical advantage to score in the corner.

The curse of the touchline kick lmeant no conversion though and  Toulouse now eight behind at 18-10.

Armitage was next to cross the line on 60 minutes, but strong defence from Yaha held him up. The stage was set for an intense final quarter of the game though, with advantage lying with the Super League new boys.

Catalans, who had May stuggling with an ankle injury since a questionable tackle, earlier in the game, saw their woes mount when Mike McMeeken was led off the field  by the team doctor with what looked a serious arm injury.


But they kept up the pressure as the game entered its final 10 minute, helped by some indisciplined play by Toulouse defenders - with Gigot and Pelissier being particular culprits.

With the clock ticking down though, neither sade came close to adding to the score and it was still at 18-10 when the hooter sounded.

With the competition's new boys meeting last year's winners of the League Leaders' Shield and losing Grand Finalists, few pundits before the game saw anything other than a Catalans win.

But "le Derby" was a much tighter game than was expected, with incidents aplenty, and the return match in Toulouse promises a crowd-pleasing spectacle - especially if the hosts then can cut out their unforced errors.

Half-Time: 14-6.

Full-Time: 18-6.

Score Progression: 4-0, 8-0, 10-0, 14-0, 14-4, 14-6.  HT: 18-6, 18-10 .  FT.

Catalan Dragons: May; T Davies, Romaro, Whitley, Yaha (2T); Pearce, Drinkwater (G); Garcia, McMeeken, Jullien, Dezaria, McIlorum, Napa. Subs: Mourgue, Doudemand, Chan (T, R50), Kasiano.

Toulouse Olympique: Shall-Bott; Marcon, Armitage (T), Hankinson (G), Russell (Y30); Albert, Gigot; Puech, Stefani, Pezet, Navarrete, Marion, Sangare. Subs: Hansen, Pelissier (Y40), Springer, Sangare.

Referee: Robert Hicks

Venue: Stade Gilbert Brutus, Perpignan.




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Posted by tb on Thu 14th Apr 2022 7:02 PM | Views : 25130 | Replies : 0 | BACK TO STORIES
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