THEY say defence wins matches…
That adage couldn’t have been more evident as Saints clung on to beat Catalans Dragons 22-16 at the Stade Gilbert on Saturday night.
Royce Simmons’ men produced a real ‘backs to the wall’ performance with some of the best scrambling defence of recent years to get back on the winning trail.
And their tackling in the final few minutes when Catalans threw everything at their line was a joy to behold.
Saints led 16-4 at the break thanks to that great defence and excellent finishing.
Although Catalans continuously punched holes in the line their visitors were in no mood to give up easy points.
Time after time Saints withstood the barrage with some breathtaking last gasp defence and then picked off the chances when they came begging.
Chris Flannery, Ade Gardner and James Graham all crossed following fine work from their teammates – with James Roby and Michael Shenton standing out.
In the second half, Eastmond added a penalty to make it 18-4 before Lee Gaskell produced a fine piece of skill to allow Shenton to grab his third of the year.
Steve Menzies pulled one back after Andy Dixon had one incorrectly ruled out then the lively Scott Dureau set up an exciting last 90 seconds with a late score.
But Saints weren’t in the mood to allow the Dragons back in and they held out – no mean feat considering they had just 15 fit players at the end.
With Sia Soliola missing out with an ankle injury, Royce Simmons was forced to shuffle around the Saints’ pack.
Jon Wilkin and Chris Flannery retained the second row spots whilst Scott Moore moved to the loose forward berth.
Leon Pryce was deemed fit to play and took up the familiar stand-off spot with Kyle Eastmond.
Trent Robinson went for exactly the same 17 that beat Hull KR last weekend.
After a rousing Catalonian anthem, Saints got underway with some strong drives but Catalans’ hard tackling drove them back.
Both sides exchanged penalties then Catalan had a strong set right on Saints’ tryline. And when Greg Mounis produced an attacking kick, Jonny Lomax was clever enough to let the ball go dead.
On 11 minutes Setaimata Sa kicked through but Wellens was alive enough to stretch out his hand and knock the ball out of his in-goal.
From the drop out, Catalans pushed forward and Steve Menzies’ pass to Damien Blanch saw the latter kick forward but it was just too strong.
Saints weathered the home side’s storm and then grabbed the opener – and it was a fine try.
Chris Flannery broke through the line, used Shenton and then took a return pass from Ade Gardner to give his side the lead.
Moments later, Saints worked the angles for Eastmond to link with Wellens and Shenton for Gardner to get down.
Eastmond missing a tough conversion attempt.
On 24 minutes, Scott Dureau sent up a hopeful high ball on the last tackle; but it seemed to deviate in flight and was touched down by Sa. After an age the video referee gave the try adjudging it had come off the back of a Saints player.
Dureau’s conversion nowhere near.
Catalan were on top despite the scoreline with their pack ripping into Saints on each set of six.
And Simmons’ men got lucky when Jason Baiteri was held up on his back over the line to deny a certain score with around ten minutes to go.
But once again, Saints contained the Catalans and hit them on the break. This time Paul Clough did the hard yards down the middle giving James Roby ideal space to work his magic.
And he did – linking up with Wellens who fed James Graham for a huge score. Eastmond with the extras.
Half Time: Catalans 4 Saints 16
Saints won a penalty early in the second half and drove to within 20 metres of the Catalans line.
They then won another and Eastmond popped over a two-pointer.
On 45 minutes Catalans forced a drop out from Paul Wellens but after four solid drives Lee Gaskell picked up a loose ball and went 50 yards down the field.
And from there the home side was always scrambling and Scott Moore had the presence of mind to find Michael Shenton for his third try of the season.
Eastmond’s conversion short.
Moments later Gaskell broke through again but his pass just hit the ground with Tony Puletua in attendance.
It was a message the Dragons should have noted as a minute later, on 59, Puletua picked up a loose ball one handed following Eastmond’s kick and Ben Farrar’s knock on – and flicked it out to Dixon who ‘scored’ with his first touch.
But bizarrely the video referee ruled it out.
It was a strange decision and it rocked Saints as on the Dragons’ next set a high ball from Dureau saw Menzies score. Dureau with the extras.
Tails up from the home side was exactly what the home side didn’t need and with 10 minutes to go Catalans were right in Saints 10 metre area.
But fantastic scrambling defence from Meli and Lomax did the trick as Blanch looked set to score.
Saints defended their line like their lives depended on it in the final five minutes but Dureau stretched over to set up a dramatic final few minutes.
Dureau with the conversion.
From the re-start Catalans blasted down the line and forced a drop out with just seconds remaining.
But Saints clung on and grabbed a vital two points.
After the match Royce revealed that they will “err on the side of caution” with Pryce and that could see him sidelined for five weeks with a groin injury.
Scott Moore also picked up a knock whilst McCarthy-Scarsbrook played through a shoulder injury and Chris Flannery had stomach cramps during the match.
Tries: Sa, Menzies, Dureau
Goals: Dureau (2 from 3)
Tries: Flannery, Gardner, Graham, Shenton
Goals: Eastmond (3 from 4)
REF: Thierry Alibert
3. Ben Farrar; 2. Damien Blanch, 12. Sébastien Raguin, 18. Darryl Millard, 5. Cyril Stacul; 14. Tony Gigot, 7. Scott Dureau; 8. David Ferriol, 9. Ian Henderson, 10. Rémi Casty, 4. Setaimata Sa, 11. Steve Menzies, 13. Greg Mounis.
Subs: 22. Jamal Fakir, 23. Lopini Paea, 24. Jason Baiteri, 26. Eloi Pelissier.
1. Paul Wellens; 2. Ade Gardner, 3. Michael Shenton, 20. Jonny Lomax, 5. Francis Meli; 6. Leon Pryce, 7. Kyle Eastmond; 10. James Graham, 9. James Roby, 15. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 13. Chris Flannery, 12. Jon Wilkin, 14. Scott Moore.
Subs: 11. Tony Puletua, 16. Paul Clough, 19. Andrew Dixon, 25. Lee Gaskell.