For the second week in a row, Salford Red Devils succeeded in defeating French opposition, in temperatures in the thirties – conditions which should have more than favoured both sets of opponents. Surprising as last week’s victory over the Catalans Dragons was to many people, this latest win was, if anything, even more commendable, coming, as it did, on French soil, in front of a most partisan crowd, against a side, which, at home, in recent weeks, had put all manner of opposition to the sword, thereby gaining a momentum which had seen them lift themselves off the bottom of the table to go above Wakefield.
Despite their Super League Championship aspirations, the Dragons, in comparison, had been visitors to the A J Bell, having, by choice, flown in and out on the day, having succumbed to struggling Warrington, the previous week, at the Magic Weekend. After this latest victory, it is now the Red Devils who have the momentum of recent victories, and, dare we say it, aspirations of making the top six at the end of the season. Let’s be fair, even St Helens failed to win in Toulouse, while Leeds, in Round 19, had gone down by twenty points to six.
Not so the Red Devils, though you would hardly have expected so, when they fell behind by six points, with only ninety seconds on the clock. It certainly was not the most auspicious of openings for them, with their conceding a penalty at the end of the very first set, thus giving Toulouse a second look at the Reds’ line, before opening up the defence on the final tackle.
Concerning as many of us might have found this, it has to be said that, for the remaining seventy-eight and a half minutes, the visitors successfully kept their line intact, no mean achievement, especially when one takes into account the venue and the conditions, while Toulouse’s other five points all came from kicks at goal.
It took the Red Devils until the 24th minute, to cross the home line, when Jack Ormoroyd charged over, but with at least one body beneath him, preventing his grounding of the ball. That attempt, however, was encouragement that they were getting close to scoring, and some four minutes later, a loose pass by Toulouse, in their own half, was acquired by Kallum Watkins. Anexcellent end-of-set kick from Mark Sneyd was taken by Joe Burgess on the try line, and all he had to was place the ball down cleanly, which he did.
For the most part, however, the first half had settled into a war of attrition, with first one side and then the other using possession to test out their opposition when in possession, particularly close to their opponents’ line. Somewhat surprisingly, it was a drop goal, by Toulouse, five minutes from half time, which broke the deadlock, and led to a further couple of points shortly afterwards.
A clean break by Gigot, one of very few in the half, was, most thankfully, brought to an end by Burgess’s ankle tap. Watkins’s drop onto the Frenchman, to ensure the tackle, was penalised by the referee, for unintentional contact with the head, and former Salford U19s, Chris Hankinson, doubled his score with the boot, bringing up a 9-6 half-time, home lead.
Tight as the first forty had been, the second half was quite the opposite, with the third quarter belonging solely to Salford. Indeed, the very first set ended with Sneyd’s magnificent, 40-20, and then his kick at the end of the subsequent set, being fumbled and presenting the Red Devils with a third.
When, on 49 mins, the French side lost the ball, on the second tackle of a set, as a result of the constant pressure they were under, Salford were quickly awarded a penalty. The lovely flowing action of their passing had been in evidence, on and off throughout the game, and was produced to fine effect for Ken Sio, to receive the ball in sufficient space to go over in the corner to put the visitors in front for the first time.
True, Toulouse reclaimed the lead, temporarily, on 53mins, courtesy Hankinson’s penalty goal. but that second Salford try had merely heralded in one of their purple patches for the next fifteen minutes. They restored their dominance on the scoreboard two minutes later, when an overlap was worked on the left, directly from a scrum, giving Burgess a clear run to the line for a converted try.
A truly tremendous break by Brodie Croft, on 59 mins, thoroughly deserved a try, but, unfortunately, his support overran him and he was tackled in possession, with the Red Devils then having to be content with Sneyd’s taking a leaf out of the opposition’s book, and slotting over a penalty goal to make up for the one – the only one – he had missed, all afternoon.
Sio wound up the evening’s scoring, with another converted try in the corner, after a strong hit-up by Helliwell on the previous tackle, after which the ball was moved further to the right, where the winger used clever footwork to beat his opponents to get over the line.
The final fifteen minutes of the game saw the home side regroup and throw everything into their attack, but their only success was in forcing three goal-line drop-outs from kicks into the in-goal area.
Almost unbelievably, just as Burgess had saved the day with an ankle tap on Gigot in the dying seconds of the first half, so he repeated the exercise, this time without the need for additional help, on Ashall-Bott from a break following his twenty-metre restart, some seven minutes from the final whistle. That proved to be their last fling of the dice, and the Red Devils were able to pocket the points and return home to prepare for next week’s visit from St Helens.