REPORT: Rovers stumble as Toulouse take spoils
Snapshot: Rovers lose their first home game of the season. Adam Quinlan among the first half scorers as the Robins go 20-6 up at the break. Chris Clarkson and Jake Butler-Fleming go over in the second half.
A poor second-half saw Toulouse come back to spoil Rovers’ League Leaders’ Shield presentation with a late win.
With the Super 8s Qualifiers just around the corner, Tim Sheens was able to welcome back influential full-back Adam Quinlan after almost three months out with a damaged shoulder. Justin Carney was given the week off to rest a minor bicep tear, while Mitch Clark was replaced by Josh Johnson and Kieren Moss was cleared to play after being forced off by a clash of heads against Bradford.
The Robins’ defence was given an early examination by the French side, after three consecutive penalties handed the visitors repeat sets deep in Rovers’ quarter. Good defensive pressure and a poor pass relieved that pressure, but a hurried tip-on by Ben Kavanagh handed Toulouse the ball back 30 metres from the Robins’ line and they took full advantage.
Spotting Quinlan stood up in the defensive line, Anthony Marion trickled the ball into the in-goal area and Mark Kheirallah followed up to touch down. The full-back added the conversion himself, and the visitors were soon back on the attack again after Jamie Ellis overcooked his restart, conceding a penalty on halfway.
Rovers regrouped to see off that danger, and quickly came back with their first attacking chance of the afternoon.
Danny Addy’s cross-kick was fumbled into touch by Kuni Minga, and although nothing came from that set, some strong defence from the 20-metre tap was rewarded with a Toulouse error on halfway. The Red and Whites quickly marched down into the French side’s quarter where a sweeping right to left move allowed Addy to dummy and shrug off a despairing tackle to round Kheirallah and score.
Ellis slotted over the conversion, and the Robins quickly went back-to-back courtesy of some strong carries and an enthusiastic kick-chase which saw Liam Salter and Paul Marcon unceremoniously dumped into touch by Moss and Liam Salter.
From that great position, Lee Jewitt and Nick Scruton went close before Shaun Lunt dummied and twisted over from dummy-half for a trademark score.
Ellis converted, but Toulouse immediately went in search of a response. Rovers muscled up on their line and Ellis hammered Rhys Curran, forcing the ball loose before Stanislas Robin wasted another opportunity for the visitors with a forward pass.
Having incurred the wrath of referee Jack Smith in the early exchanges, the Red and Whites finally received their first penalty after 33 minutes, when Tyla Hepi wrestled Zach Dockar-Clay to the ground by his head.
Rovers wasted that chance with an error on the second tackle, but more strong defence paid dividends when Hepi lost the ball in a big tackle. That gave the Robins great field position, and direct from the scrum, they took the ball right. Butler-Fleming beat his opposite number easily before showing great awareness to fire a ball back inside for Quinlan to score.
Ellis converted before adding a penalty goal on the stroke of half-time after Dockar-Clay was up-ended after passing the ball, sending Rovers into the break with a14-point lead after a decidedly scrappy first half.
Half-Time: Hull Kingston Rovers 20 Toulouse Olympique 6
Despite the scoreline, the Robins had looked off the pace in the first 40 minutes, and although they went into the break with the momentum that lasted just five minutes as a poor error on their own line presented Toulouse with a try on a plate.
Butler-Fleming did well to claim a cross-kick on his own line under intense pressure, but as he was being dragged back towards the in-goal area, the centre looked to offload to Ryan Shaw and Bastien Ader had the simple job of falling on the loose ball.
Kheirallah converted and kicked a 40-20 in the next set to put the French side straight back on the attack again. A sloppy pass led to a fumble on the second tackle to let Rovers off the hook, before both sides were reduced to 12 men a couple of minutes later.
After some pushing and shoving, Hepi punched Lee Jewitt, sparking a flurry of punches between the pair that saw yellow cards shown to both parties. The Robins were awarded the penalty for the first punch, but Rob Mulhern spilled the ball on the first tackle and quick hands in the resulting set saw Marcon put away down the sideline. Salter was back in cover to get a hand to the winger’s inside pass, but the loose ball bounced kindly for Robin to scamper in under the posts.
Kheirallah added the conversion, but the Red and Whites quickly hit back when Butler-Fleming palmed Addy’s cross-kick back to Shaw. The winger cut infield before offloading to Ellis, and he fired the ball wide for Chris Clarkson to dummy and stroll over.
Ellis hooked his kick wide, leaving Rovers’ lead at six points. That could have been increased to eight points when Toulouse were penalised for a late tackle, but the Robins opted to run the ball and the French side held strong to keep them at bay.
The decision to turn down the simple kick at goal was quickly brought into sharp focus when Kheirallah’s break put Ader over for his second try, again converted by Kheirallah.
With the scores tied going into the final ten minutes, the game was back up for grabs, and Toulouse grabbed the initiative when a scruffy last-tackle play came up for them.
Kane Bentley’s chip ahead and kick-on was fumbled on the floor by Butler-Fleming, allowing Robin to pick up the pieces and go over to put the visitors ahead.
Kheirallah converted before Marcon had a score disallowed for a forward pass as the game threatened to slip away from the Robins, and when Quinlan lost possession from the resulting scrum, Robin slotted over a drop-goal to condemn Rovers to their first home defeat of the season.
The Red and Whites went in search of a score to set up a grandstand finish, but Maurice Blair’s bomb bounced away from the onrushing Shaw and into Toulouse hands. When the try did come, it was too little, too late, as Butler-Fleming caught a short drop-out before brushing off a couple of half-hearted tackles to score.
Ellis converted, but the win went to Toulouse, who kept their top four hopes alive.
Full-Time: Hull Kingston Rovers 30 Toulouse Olympique 31
Hull KR: 1. Adam Quinlan; 32. Kieren Moss, 4. Liam Salter, 29. Jake Butler-Fleming, 5. Ryan Shaw; 13. Danny Addy, 7. Jamie Ellis; 8. Nick Scruton, 9. Shaun Lunt, 37. Lee Jewitt; 11. Maurice Blair, 10. Chris Clarkson, 33. Ben Kavanagh.
Replacements: 21. Rob Mulhern, 18. Zach Dockar-Clay, 2. Ben Cockayne, 35. Josh Johnson.
Toulouse: 1. Mark Kheirallah; 20. Paul Marcon, 11. Sebastien Planas, 3. Bastien Ader, 5. Kuni Minga; 24. Anthony Marion, 7. Stanislas Robin; 8. Clement Boyer, 9. Kane Bentley, 10. Bastien Canet; 26. Con Mika, 12. Rhys Curran, 13. Andrew Bentley.
Replacements: 27. Charles Bouzinac, 15. Maxime Puech, 16. Tyla Hepi, 23. Justine Sangare.
Referee: Jack Smith Attendance: 7,117