OLDHAM produced another rousing performance against French full-timers Toulouse Olympique in their battle to stay in the Championship, but went down by six points — 24-18 — to find themselves in a must-win, winner-takes-all contest at Swinton next Sunday, September 10.
Although the Frenchmen scored five tries to the Roughyeds’ two, Scott Naylor’s men led 10-8 at half-time and were still in front, 12-8 by then, as a fiercely-fought contest edged past the 60-minute mark.
Going down the slope, Roughyeds started the second half like a house on fire with Danny Grimshaw forcing a Toulouse drop out and then going agonisingly close to scoring.
The visitors looked rattled when a left-flank raid ended with a forward pass. After the resulting scrum they went high on George Tyson and Luke Hooley’s long-range penalty from just inside the French half pushed Roughyeds into a 12-8 lead.
Roughyeds were going for goal at every opportunity, the teenage full-back finishing with five from five, including three penalties. He was later named as the club’s man of the match.
It was nip and tuck for the next quarter of an hour or so, with Oldham giving as good as they got in both defence and attack.
Toulouse were again recalled for a forward pass (Jon Ford to Rhys Curran this time), but they drew level midway through the half after Luke Adamson conceded a ruck penalty. In the next set, the visitors attacked down the left and then shifted the ball from left to right to give man-mountain Constantine Mika plenty of space to go through an outflanked defence.
Mark Kheirallah failed to convert for the third time, but he made no mistake a couple of minutes later in converting Tyla Hepi’s try. The Kiwi seemed to stroll easily through a defence that had hitherto been solid and determined after another penalty to Toulouse — a big 50-50 call this —- had allowed them to start a set deep inside the Roughyeds half.
The visitors got four penalties in a row in this decisive spell and it cost Roughyeds dearly as Toulouse hit the front at 18-12.
Oldham roared back but they couldn’t get over the line despite French prop Bastien Canet going in the sin-bin for a shoulder charge with his side under heavy pressure.
Oldham won a back-to-back set with a Dave Hewitt chip, but Toulouse extended their lead when the outstanding Ford, the most influential player on the field, sent in Kheirallah for a try which the full-back also goaled for a 24-12 lead.
It was to Oldham’s credit that they never gave in. After a thrust by ‘Sid’ Adebiyi, Michael Ward was held up over the line and then Ben Morris went within a whisker of scoring when he chased Hooley’s grubber into the in-goal.
Finally, they were rewarded when a Kenny Hughes chip struck a post and thus wrong-footed a couple of defenders as Hughes followed up to touch down under the posts. Hooley’s goal made it a six-point ball game with five minutes to go.
Oldham went for it — how hard they tried — but their last chance of an equalising try went adrift when Tyson made the break only to see his final pass to the supporting Hewitt go to ground under pressure.
Roughyeds won the toss and elected to play up the slope — their usual ploy when the choice is theirs.
They were immediately under pressure when Hewitt and Kameron Pearce-Paul collided in both going for the same kick-off ball. Two sets later Toulouse opened the scoring with a 4th-minute try in the corner by Rhys Curran after a sliderule grubber by the classy Ford.
Oldham quickly responded. Hewitt’s left-side kicking was causing the visitors problems and after Kheirallah knocked-on the strong-running Adamson went close before Kenny Hughes nipped over from dummy half. Hooley goaled and then added a penalty to stretch Oldham’s lead to 8-4.
Hewitt continued to force the error with his low-trajectory kicks on a slippy surface, but Roughyeds couldn’t capitalise before Toulouse drew level when centre Gavin Marguerite crossed wide out after a slick left-to-right switch created a bit of space for him out wide.
Ward, later to come in for heavy treatment from the Toulouse forwards, went close to scoring but earned a penalty which Hooley put over from under the sticks for a 10-8 Oldham lead.
Oldham had the bit between their teeth, as demonstrated when another Hewitt kick trapped Hepi in goal. He looked for assistance from Kheirallah but the Oldham forwards were on him in a flash in numbers to force the drop out — great stuff from a side that fully deserved an interval lead.
Toulouse probably just shaded it in the end, but a very good case could be advanced that Roughyeds put enough into the game to at least earn a point.
There were definitely heaps of positives to come out of this performance ahead of next week’s massive game against Swinton at Heywood Road.
Scorers: Oldham — tries, Hughes (2); goals Hooley 5/5; Toulouse — tries, Curran, Marguerite, Mika, Hepi, Kheirallah; goals, Kheirallah 2/5.
Oldham: Hooley; Clay, Morris, Tyson, Pearce-Paul; Grimshaw, Hewitt; Burke, Hughes, Spencer, Bent, Thompson, Adamson. Subs: Wilkinson, Adebiyi, Ward, Gee.
Toulouse: Kheirallah; Marcon, Marguerite, Ader, Maurel; Ford, Jouffret; Sangare, Marion, Canet, Mika, Curran, Bentley. Subs: Bouzinac, Puech, Hepi, Nzoungou.
Ref: A Sweet; Attendance, 581.