League Express Championship Focus with Gareth Walker
Much was rightly made of the Catalans’ commitment to help finish Super League last season, but now an increased spotlight should be turned on the efforts of Toulouse in the Championship.
Denied any home games by a combination of travel restrictions between countries and London’s decision not to fly back in April, the French club has continued to jet to England on a regular basis, even staging home games on neutral venues here to fulfil fixtures.
And the process that Sylvain Houles and his squad must go through each time is certainly eye-opening.
It includes a commitment to effectively quarantine – within their family and club bubbles – for seven days each time they fly to England and return.
Back in the south of France, they are only permitted to train and spend time at home, with each member of the “essential staff” that flies with the team following the same rules.
In order to get the travel exemption from the relevant governments, the club must use privately chartered flights, which cost an estimated three times more that the usual trips.
All this while being unable to play in front of their own fans because of the understandable inability for part-time teams to travel in the current climate.
When London Broncos – the only other full-time team in the competition – refused to travel two months ago, Houles’ side was awarded a 24-0 win.
The French club was critical of London’s decision, with the Broncos – feeling they were being treated differently to part-time teams – also hitting out at the RFL of their handling of the situation.
It was yet another imperfect situation amid the global pandemic.
More recently, Toulouse’s home games with Featherstone and Bradford were cancelled, with neither club being penalised in that situation as the English teams are primarily part-time.
But nobody is winning in those situations – which are likely to be repeated through the season – least of all Toulouse, who are enduring a stop-start campaign played entirely on the road.
They did play their recent “home” game with Widnes at Swinton Lions’ Heywood Road, with the French club covering the cost of the match, and also paid the production costs to enable it to be shown on the OurLeague app in return for 90 per cent of the pay-per-view income.
But doing that every single week – with the quarantine involved for those that travel – is simply unrealistic.
When they next get to play at the Stade Ernest Wallon remains to be seen, but whenever it is, hopefully they will be welcomed back as returning heroes by their supporters.
The club provided an insight into what Houles’ squad must do each time they fly to England, which is as follows.
* PCR tests each Monday and the day before travelling.
* The team meets at the airport at 9am, the morning of the game, to fly to England.
* Pre-match meal is prepared beforehand and eaten on the plane.
* Get straight off the plane onto a bus that takes them to the ground.
* Immediately after the game they board the bus back to the airport, eating again en route.
* Plane usually arrives back in France around 11pm.
* Each person that has travelled must restrict their movements to only their family homes and training at Toulouse.
All of this is being done, of course, to fulfil the club’s strong and long-held desire to finally reach Super League.
Some thought they were unlucky to miss out to Leigh Centurions in replacing Toronto and would have provided a more competitive team on the field.
That’s impossible to judge, but one thing is certain.
If Toulouse do win promotion this season – and they face stern competition from Featherstone and others – they will undoubtedly have taken the long road there.
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