Written by Zack Wilson
Photo by Alain Montsegur
Toulouse Olympique coach Sylvain Houles is pleased with the way that his team have performed over the course of the first part of the 2019 season.
Since losing their first two games of the season, both away games, to Leigh Centurions and Widnes Vikings, the French side have won six games on the bounce.
Those wins include a fine 46-16 home win over mighty Toronto Wolfpack. To follow that up, Barrow Raiders were beaten 50-0 at the Stade Ernest-Argeles, and last weekend TO travelled to Batley and won 38-12.
Houles is very pleased with the way that things have transpired at the start of the season, but knows that there is still much work to be done.
“Of progress,” he replied, when asked what he thought of when he considered how the first stage of the campaign has turned out.
“We have renewed our staff, the recovery of some players has been staggered, and there have been some modifications in our game, especially in defence, which can take time to put in place.
“All this meant that we were not necessarily well prepared for the start of the season, which may explain the two defeats at the start, and then the improvement, especially in the last four games.
“We learn, learn and progress, and it’s that that I remember.
“We can and want to do better with our tackling technique. It’s the next big job of the month.
“We also want to improve our options on the last tackle, in defence or attack. Offensively, we want to progress with our execution and our speed.”
Houles has also been very pleased with the way that the club’s off-season recruits have performed so far in 2019.
Some of those recruits are yet to play for the first team, but there have been homegrown domestic players who have compensated for their absence.
“We brought in seven new players, which is a first for us,” the coach explained.
“They have had to adapt, to integrate and to assimilate to the way we play, which is not easy at all.
“But already we are very satisfied when we see the performances of Dean Parata or Brenden Santi. Ben Evans has also shown good things over the last month.
“Joe Bretherton had arrived during last season but he has really exploded this year.
Unfortunately, there are recruits we have not seen yet, like Patty Vaivai, James Bell, Bergal Ilias or Jordan Dezaria who are gradually coming back from their respective injuries.
“There is wear and tear but it is part of rugby, and we have managed to perform well despite the rotation of the players.
“We do not lose quality, and that’s what’s interesting.
“We also have young players just behind. Mathieu Jussaume, who graduates from the rugby school and the TO Training Centre, has just been integrated into the pro squad following the three games he played with us, and during which he showed great potential.
“He must now adapt to our demands, our culture and our values to become a professional.”
Toulouse’s next game is on April 6, when they welcome Featherstone Rovers to the Pink City.
Houles is well aware of the challenge that Fev pose to his team.
“We are fortunate to have two weeks to work before the visit of Featherstone,” he said.
“This allows us to take the time to work on points that we do not have time to tackle between games.
“And after Featherstone, we have another weekend off, so I think of it as being that we have one month to progress on the points I mentioned earlier.
“With Adam Innes (TO’s strength and conditioning coach), we also want to prepare for the big Easter block with three games in eight days.
“This period will give us the time to work on some things that we don’t have time for between games.
“We want to make sure we negotiate this part of the season.
“April is important because once we play the four games of the month, we will have finished the first leg of the season and we can evaluate ourselves and take a look at the other 13 teams.
“I think the Championship is tight. There are many more competitive teams.
“It’s interesting, it pushes us to be consistent in our efforts and reinforces the idea of us taking things match by match, and not to get ahead of ourselves, because we have to be ready for a big game every weekend, whoever the opponent.”