The magic of the Cup. This time we were on the opposite end of a little bit of Challenge Cup magic after a well prepared trip to Toulouse saw us knocked out with a 10 to 8 defeat to a very well organised and spirited team.
Toulouse deserve everything they got from the tie and I genuinely wish them well for the remainder of the competition.
From what I saw as a full-time team on that performance they will have little difficulty finding their way into the Championship where I also believe they will be competitive and, who knows, with further investment and recruitment a genuine challenge for the top four.
It was difficult for Jukesy and Ando to review Toulouse but having now seen them play it is easy to see why they had only conceded six points in three games having scored nearly 200 in the process.
Although they only scored one try which was from a kick we were made to work hard in defence with a number of repeat sets after good use of the large in goal areas from their No.6.
Whilst we had more than 500k of our salary cap sat back in England we still had a top side on the field and Toulouse’s spirited defence and dogged determination to keep us out saw them deservedly hanging on in torrential rain at the end to savour a fantastic victory.
I have no complaints on review.
We prepared well, although we had to change the intended personnel the day before travelling due to sickness our arrangements were spot on.
We invested in a more expensive route and accommodation and everything was going well.
I watched Neil’s video review and saw the tip sheet and there were no surprises with what we encountered we just didn’t do what we needed to do and Toulouse can take some credit for that for not allowing us to do so.
Everything Neil predicted happened.
We experienced some difficulties getting the large coach we upgraded to into the stadium and ended up having to get off the bus and walk the final 100m into the car park lugging our gear with us.
The tight corners and diversions in place saw us go from arriving earlier than planned at 3pm to almost 4pm which wasn’t ideal and having a Spanish driver in France added to the mix.
Having paid a good few bob to upgrade the coach I wasn’t expecting me and our chairman Michael Norris to get an early shower en route from the condensation unit of the air conditioning unit that came leaking down from the bulk head although that was nothing compared to the shower from the rain at the end.
We were made very welcome by the Toulouse directors and Fabrice their English speaking representative and we made an exchange of gifts prior to the match.
Just after those presentations I learned of the fantastic victory of Oldham against Hull KR and I sent Chris Hamilton a text congratulating him.
That was an outstanding victory and I would agree with Jack Dearden when he says that it is up there with the biggest.
I joked with the Toulouse representatives that Oldham’s victory would be the only shock of the round and we shared some banter with them claiming there could be two and whilst they were correct, in all honesty it wasn’t a massive shock to us.
Despite what some people think we were well prepared as stated and never underestimated them in the slightest.
We knew it would be very tough and that we would need to be on our game completing our sets to get out of there with the goods and we didn’t do that whilst they did exactly what we knew they would and that was ultimately the difference.
We were obviously disappointed with the outcome as were some players on an individual basis with their performances and we had a three-hour journey back to Perpignan to the hotel.
We had originally intended to stay for 45 minutes after the game in what had been labelled the “bodega” but when we checked that area out it was very small with a brass band playing and already packed with people outside and almost impossible to see the small bar.
You also needed to queue to buy a token before then queuing to get served with a drink so we took the view to head straight off.
Despite the disappointment of some of our fans, for which I apologise, most of the players spoke with a few people on their way through and had selfies; indeed I saw one of me pop up somewhere which reminded me to get back to that diet! In the end it needs to be understood that whilst we absolutely value our fans who are extremely important to the club we have to act in the best interests of the players and on this occasion that is what we did.
They began their preparation for the trip to Featherstone on Sunday morning at 7am with a plunge in the cold pool before boarding the coach at 8am for the journey home.
Overall despite the result we got a lot out of the visit to France.
As most of you who know me or regularly read my column, I am a very positive person and like to take the positives out of everything.
I believe that everything happens for a reason and in this case we endured a trip that saw relationships grow along with a bit of fun amongst the guys.
Time will tell but perhaps the biggest positive will be the ability to now have a single minded approach to the league campaign and going into the qualifiers fresh without a fixture back log.
As one senior player who wasn’t with us last year pointed out back at the hotel, last year the Super League sides were ready for us knowing we were capable of beating them having already beaten two of them. They knew they had to up their game and be at their best.
On the opposite side we knew we could beat them and maybe that gave us too much confidence who knows.
This year we won’t know until we play our first super league opposition just where we are and likewise nor will they so it will all make for an interesting time.
Obviously before that we have to put in the performances in the league to earn that right.
On landing and turning on my phone I opened a text from FUI informing me he was home and out of hospital and his wife and children were with him.
This really sealed the trip and this great news was worth far more to me than any win in France! Welcome home FUI