12-MAN Saints showed remarkable resilience to beat Catalans 20-15 in a game of great drama in Perpignan on Saturday.
Two huge decisions saw Tony Puletua off for an innocuous looking shoulder challenge and the home side denied a try that would have been given nine times from ten.
To base a performance solely on those two incidents would be unfair to Saints though, who tackled like their lives depended on it – especially in the last 10 minutes – with a heavy penalty count in the home side’s favour.
Catalans led 15-10 after an entertaining first half that saw pieces of brilliance from both stand-offs.
Lance Hohaia dipped his shoulder for an excellent highlight reel try before Leon Pryce slipped a perfect ball out for Sebastien Raguin to put the Dragons ahead just before the hooter.
In the second half, Saints weathered all the early pressure before Chris Flannery and Tommy Makinson fired them ahead.
TP then was given his marching orders to set up a tense finale but the Dragons couldn’t find a way through as Saints defence held firm to leapfrog their opponents into third.
Trips to the Stade Gilbert Brutus are always physical and with that in mind, Saints went for a strong looking bench coupled with the return of the Jonny Lomax – Lance Hohaia partnership.
Catalan had all the early pressure and were a significant threat on Saints’ line with three sets in a row.
And they made no mistake on the fourth with Vincent Duport driving onto a pass to go under the sticks.
Dureau converted and then added a penalty to give Catalan a 8-0 lead after just 11 minutes.
Saints hit back five minutes later when Lance Hohaia stepped, dipped his shoulder and flew through the Dragons’ defence.
Tommy Makinson converting from under the posts.
Both sides had further chances – but it was the home side that looked the more dangerous especially in Saints’ half.
But a looping, long pass from Hohaia – who was having a great game in defence and attack – saw Meli cross with ease.
It was his 13th try of the season and he did well to put down under pressure.
Yet, on the stroke of half time Catalans forged ahead once again as Leon Pryce flipped out a sublime ball for Sebastien Raguin to plunge over.
Scott Dureau adding his third of the night to make it a four-point match.
He then notched over a drop goal to send his side in five points to the good at half time.
Saints were almost punished from the word go in the second 40 as they lost the ball on their very first set. But the defence held firm to stave off what would have been a disastrous start to the half.
And they made the home side pay – a wonderful flat ball from Jonny Lomax seeing Chris Flannery scorch through.
Makinson converted to put Saints ahead and seconds later a massive high ball from Hohaia had the Dragons defence in turmoil.
They couldn’t read the bounce and Makinson profited when he took it at the second attempt.
Undeterred, Catalan continued to push and were being helped by Saints who simply gave away too many penalties over the course of the evening.
Catalans thought they’d scored when an error in midfield saw Raguin plunge over but the referee gave a knock on – and in all fairness it probably was.
Saints withheld the barrage for two more sets but when Tony Puletua was sent off for a high tackle – a poorer decision as you will ever see – their backs were really against the wall.
And it looked like Damien Cardace had scored to bring the Dragons right back into it but he was cruelly denied by the video referee who claimed Makinson had been held back.
Hohaia sliced a drop goal wide at the death as Saints looked to kill off the game and that left 30 seconds and just one set for Catalans to pull off another amazing win.
But they had too far to get up the field and Saints snuffed out the danger for an immense win.
Tries: Duport, Raguin
Goals: Dureau (3 from 3)
Tries: Hohaia, Meli, Flannery, Makinson
Goals: Makinson (2 from 4)
REF: Ben Thaler
5. Cyril Stacul; 2. Damien Blanch, 25. Vincent Duport, 18. Daryl Millard, 28. Damien Cardace; 3. Leon Pryce, 7. Scott Dureau; 23. Lopini Paea, 9. Ian Henderson, 10. Rémi Casty, 11. Steve Menzies, 14. Sébastien Raguin, 24. Jason Baitieri.
Subs: 13. Greg Mounis, 16. Eloi Pelissier, 21. Julian Bousquet, 22. Jamal Fakir.
1. Paul Wellens; 21. Tommy Makinson, 3. Michael Shenton, 26. Josh Jones, 5. Francis Meli; 6. Lance Hohaia, 7. Jonny Lomax; 8. Josh Perry, 9. James Roby, 14. Anthony Laffranchi, 11. Tony Puletua, 13. Chris Flannery, 12. Jon Wilkin.
Subs: 4. Sia Soliola, 10. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 16. Paul Clough, 19. Andy Dixon.