Wolves dig deep to win in France
Catalan Dragons 12 Warrington Wolves 14
By Rachel Arnett
Warrington Wolves travelled to the South of France on Friday ahead of their last match of the regular season against the Dragons.
The team arrived at the Stade Gilbert Brutus on Saturday in very wet conditions as the rain came down heavily with just over an hour until kick off adding to the test ahead of them.
The Wolves won the corresponding fixture at home at the start of the year and sat comfortably in second going into the game. But the result of the match meant the difference between a sixth or seventh placed finish for the Dragons; the difference between a home or away tie in the play-offs.
Both line-ups saw several changes to the teams from the previous weekend. Hodgson and Atkins returned for the Wolves with Joel Monaghan and Harrison out. Three changes were made to the Dragons starting 13 with Vaccari, Escare and Taia in; Blanch, Bosc and Elima out.
The weather played a big part in the match. Both teams are renowned for their expansive play, throwing the ball around, but the rain restricted this style of rugby. The Wolves were on the wrong end of the penalty count but dug in to secure a narrow victory. The opening half saw the Wolves take a two-try lead but the Dragons snatched one back to make it 6-10 to the visitors at the break. The tables turned in the second half with the Dragons taking the lead with a try from Menzies but the Wolves held strong with a third try to seal the win.
At the end of the Wolves' first attacking set the chase was able to tackle the Dragons out of play forcing a drop-out and repeat set. But Wood knocked on in the tackle on half-way in the next play to put a halt to the attack.
Play then switched ends as a deep kick from the Dragons was wrapped up by Hodgson who was caught in goal resulting in a similar play at the opposite end of the field.
This end-to-end play continued before the deadlock was broken on 12 minutes. A hard-hitting tackle by the Wolves forced the ball to come free. From the resultant penalty quick hands carried the ball out to the right and Bridge put Evans in; sliding over in the corner. Hodgson could not add the touchline conversion. 0-4.
The Wolves looked to have added to this a few minutes later in another period of pressure from the visitors. Westwood followed up a well-weighted grubber kick by Briers but on video referee inspection he was ruled not to have grounded the ball as it skipped away from him. The Wolves were, however, creating repeat opportunities.
A deep kick as the 20-minute mark approached looked to have opened up space for the Wolves but Webb slid in to wrap up the ball for a try-saver.
The Wolves were next over though; on 24 minutes Ratchford extended the lead. A loose ball by the Dragons was scooped up off the deck by Westwood into the hands of Higham who timed the pass well to Ratchford on his inside. Hodsgon added the conversion.
The Dragons continued to test the Wolves' defence mounting several periods of attack. Briers was pulled up for a high shot, quickly followed by another this time by Morley with the incident put on report with 10 minutes of the half remaining.
Despite the best attempts of the Wolves, a sweeping pass out to the left was intercepted by Dureau who went on to run 70 metres for a try. He added a conversion to make it 6-10 at half time.
The second half started with the Wolves presenting the first period of notable attacking pressure. A Briers' chip kick to the right corner was just too strong for Evans down the wing and beat both him and the Dragons chase out of play.
The Dragons' pace and quick hands then continued to test the Wolves right hand side before Westwood slid in to cover the line and halt the attack.
The 56th minute saw Wood come close to another score for the visitors but he was pulled back, deemed to have used Carvell in the play, running behind his own man, conceding the penalty.
Following a penalty on half-way on 62 minutes the tables turned for a spell; Dureau placed a grubber kick into the in-goal area for Menzies to chase and score, receiving applause from the Dragons supporters. 12-10 and the home side took the lead.
Despite the atmosphere created by the vocal home crowd the visitors remained focused and a penalty on half way for a second attempt at tackling Higham led to the next try. On 69 minutes quick hands from Ratchford and Hodgson opened space for Riley to fly over in the corner. Hodgson missed the touchline conversion attempt but the Wolves looked to have done enough to secure the win.
A draw could have been on the cards minutes later when Dureau opted to go for goal after the second of back-to-back penalties but it drifted wide with just a few minutes left on the clock.
With a few seconds remaining Higham dummied over for a final say but was ruled to have knocked-on on his way over to be denied. Full Time score: 12-14
Wolves' head of coaching and rugby Tony Smith said: "We were very gutsy. I was really pleased with the way we played and the way we stuck to it. I am very proud of the way the players went about it; they didn't give in. We overcame a whole lot there tonight; this is without doubt the most intimidating place to come and play. You've just got to roll with it and see if you can come out on top in the end; fortunately we were able to. I thought both teams were gutsy and they never gave in."
And on the wet weather conditions he added: "At this time of year we've got to rein our horns in a little bit, play a bit tougher and smarter, and kick better. It (the rain) didn't add to the spectacle but it was right for us; it was a great tough, graft, stick to your guns game. Our defence was enormous and forced a lot of errors. I thought we were physially very tough."
Brent Webb, Frederic Vaccari, Steve Menzies, Vincent Duport, Morgan Excare, Leon Pryce, Scott Dureau, Julian Bousquet, Ian Henderson, Remi Casty, Zeb Taia, Elliott Whitehead, Greg Mounis
Subs: Eloi Pelissier, Jamal Fakir, Lopini Paea, Benjamin Garcia
Tries: Dureau, Menzies
Goals: Dureau (2)
Brett Hodgson, Chris Riley, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Rhys Evans, Lee Briers, Stefan Ratchford, Paul Wood, Micky Higham, Chris Hill, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Simon Grix
Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper
Tries: Evans, Ratchford, Riley
Half Time: 6-10
07, Sep, 2013