28/4/11 Widnes Vikings 26 Toulouse Olympique XIII 12
Super League elect side Widnes hosted Super League wannabees Toulouse in front of the SKY TV cameras on a balmy Thursday evening at the Stobart Stadium. Widnes are guaranteed promotion at the end of the year so it was difficult to see how their coaching staff could motivate the players but numerous youngsters would be hoping to impress and earn a lucrative Super League contract. Toulouse have struggled with injuries this year but would be keen to continue their steady progress and achieve their stated objective of making the end of year play offs
Defences were on top during the first half and I was looking for a demonstration of the famous French flair but unfortunately it seems to have been coached out of them. Tony Gigot, on loan from the Catalan Dragons, tried his best and showed some nice touches but also demonstrated his inexperience and naivety. It was a pity that Toulouse coach Gilles Dumas wasn't playing because I remember him as a very classy stand off who regularly shone despite often playing behind a beaten pack.
Toulouse took the lead with a Nichols penalty before tries from Gaskell and Ropati try gave Widnes a half time lead. Three quick tries after the break from Mellor, Tomkins and Crosby put Widnes in command but the Frenchmen fought back with a try from Tisseyre and finished much the stronger. They had tries denied by the video referee and the scoreline didn't really reflect their efforts.
It was nice to see the mainly British and French players on show although seven antipodeans were far too many in my view. There is absolutely no reason why all players at this level should not be home grown but if the RFL do not abide by their own overseas player regulations (and the Willie Mason fiasco demonstrates that they don't) we cannot blame individual clubs for taking the same line.
A crowd of 3601 was a reasonable return under the circumstances but hardly justifies the subsidised travelling costs involved in the continued Toulouse participation. Should this money be spent on marketing and targeted support for a revamped French Championship? France is a developed country with a rugby culture and a long, proud Rugby League tradition. To twist the words of Frank Sinatra around slightly:
if we can't make it there, we can't make it anywhere