Saturday 25th July. Matchday.
Many Widnes fans over for the weekend were probably looking to have a good time and a nice break away from their hectic lifestyles. But to me, only one thing matters, and that’s the result. If Widnes win, it’s a good weekend. If Widnes lose, it’s not. Simples.
Unfortunately, the shutters on our hotel window don’t give much estimation of the time, so after a post-midday arisal, we set off in to Toulouse city centre. We’d nailed the metro by this time and so as we got off at Jean Jaures, we hunted for food. And right to the left of the metro exit, we found Pizzeria Vecchio, and unlike the place we went last night, it served pizza! So a pizza each later, we head off to explore Toulouse.
It’s quite a nice little place, the main part has a massive square which is overlooked by restaurants. As we were walking through there were horns going off everywhere – evidently, when there’s a wedding on, it gives you the licence to beep your car horn as often as you like.
We even managed to fit a bit of culture in – with a visit to Saint Sernin.
Speaking of different cultures, the roads in France are something else. There are zebra crossings at every junction, but they mean diddly squat. As does the green man. After a while, we established that when the green man is on the cars are supposed to stop at the zebras, but don’t hold your breath. We saw a few hairy skirmishes, with a woman giving a hairy old man on a quad bike the Vs after a near miss. The message is, if you see a green man in France, don’t automatically assume you can go!
We then went on the hunt for some memorabilia of the trip, and found a few sport shops that were kitted out mainly with the new Marseille football kit, while they also had Lyon, Bordeaux, St Etienne and more. For some reason, they didn’t have the lovely purple and white striped Toulouse shirt anywhere, which was a blow. There were also a collection of ridiculous Stade Francais rugby union shirts, which you really have to see to believe.
After that, we made our way to the Stade Toulousain Rugby store. Toulouse’s rugby union team are one of the best in Europe. It an amazing store, with everything you could think of related to the club, from shirts to scarves, dummies to dressing gowns. The home shirt was soon earmarked as a decent item of memorabilia, and we’d visit back.
I tend to get a football shirt as a momento wherever I go on holiday, so was determined to get something Toulouse related.
With our needs to quency our thirst increasing, we headed to the Melting Pot for a few drinks, and chilled out in front of the TV. Here we came across a group of Reg Reagan’s from Widnes, all kitted out in black wigs, black moustaches, black shirts with a different message on and green Australian rugby league shorts. Amazingly, they all spoke with an Australian accent across the weekend. They provided a fair few laughs, and continued to do so.
At around 5pm, we headed to the game and found Toulouse’s own ground, which looked average. But we weren’t playing there, and we got the free bus up to Blagnac RU. On the way, we passed the Toulouse Rugby Union ground which looked quite impressive, and somehow navigated some very narrow streets to reach Blagnac.
It was a tidy little ground, with two stands on either side and then space behind one end to stand. At 10 euros to get in, it wasn’t bad, although you had to pay another 10 euros if you wanted to sit down. There was a stall outside selling Toulouse RL merchandise, so we plumped for a Toulouse home shirt each at a respectable 49 euros. There was a bar in the back of one of the stands, which proved handy later on.
Ahead of the Widnes game, England were playing France in a Women’s international. England played some nice stuff, and ended up running away 36-0 winners – despite the fact the scoreboard said 34-0 and they announced at the end it was 34-0, we definitely counted it as 36-0, as did a few others! There were some impressive players on show, and womens rugby league is definitely something to research when we get back. We also weren’t convinced they played the full 40 in the second half, but never mind.
And to the main reason we came. Toulouse v Widnes in the Championship. After Featherstone’s surprise win at Halifax on Friday it was all the more important that we won this to consolidate our play-off berth. It was a tough opening with both sets of forwards slugging it out, and after a dubious scrum decision, Toulouse opened the scoring.
Widnes hit back, and a superb effort by Kevin Penny saw us hit the front on the interval, with a 16-12 advantage – except the scoreboard said 14-12! Thankfully, during the half time break, it was rectified.
In the second half, Widnes seemed to fall off a bit and despite us expecting them to run away with it, it was Toulouse that hit the front, and led 24-16. At this stage, half way in to the second half, I wasn’t convinced. Widnes had no urgency, and didn’t look like scoring. But they kept at it, and Jim Gannon forced his way over the line under the sticks to reduce arrears to two.
Widnes had the momentum, and an extraordinary last tackle play saw Toa Kohe-Love go close, Dean Gaskell retrieve the ball and spread it across, and with the defence stretched, Gavin Dodd put in a pinpoint cross-field kick and Kevin Penny touched down in the corner to give us the lead. Dodd tagged on the goal to put us 28-24 in front with about five to play.
Toulouse kept coming at us, but when Lee Doran pulled off an interception and released Richard Varkulis, Varks headed for the corner and touched down for the game winner. Get in! 32-24.
Now, someone told us that Toulouse were expecting 5,000+. There was no where near that many. One of the stands was probably about two thirds full, but the opposite one was almost empty. And you could make the ar
gument that there were nearly as many Widnes fans as home fans. The crowd was eventually announced as 3,209, which certainly was not the case!
It makes you wonder just what the RFL is trying to achieve by giving false attendances such as these. It’s ridiculous.
We remained at the ground for probably at least half hour after the game as the players came to chat to the fans. Mark Smith told us he’d been bollocked by boss Paul Cullen for his performance, while one drunkard tried his best to get Smith’s shirt from his back, but apparently the players aren’t allowed. We also noticed Vikings Sporting Director Terry O’Connor – funny how when we play the likes of Featherstone at home, he can’t make it, but when there’s a free holiday to Toulouse on the go, he’s there!
And there we go, the primary reason for the trip had been a success. Get in!