Catalan Dragons 38 Wigan 30: Jones inspires Catalans to dramatic debut success

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The Independent Online

France's new club in Super League defied all gloomy predictions for them with an exhilarating victory in a memorable opening fixture.

The Catalans triumphed on and off the field, attracting a crowd of more than 11,000 to the stadium they are sharing with Perpignan's rugby union club. After a performance like this, it is hard to imagine that they will not be back when Bradford are the next visitors in three weeks' time.

Led by the inspirational Stacey Jones, the Catalans showed great resilience in fighting back three times, the last of them in the final five minutes.

"It was fantastic to be a part of history,'' Jones said. "To see the happiness on the young French guys' faces was fantastic.''

Jones' shrewd distribution and uncanny instinct for the right option drew excellent performances from fellow Antipodeans like Chris Beattie and Sean Rudder - unrecognisable here from his displays for Castleford two years ago.

The former New Zealand Warrior also helped to bring out the potential of Frenchmen like Jamal Fakir, a devastating runner when not getting himself in trouble with the referee, and Julien Rinaldi, a revelation at hooker.

"There was a bit of the French champagne rugby there,'' said David Waite, the acting head coach who still insists that he does not want the job permanently.

"It was massively encouraging,'' said Nigel Wood, the Rugby League's operations director and one of the driving forces behind bringing a French presence back into Super League after an eight-year gap. "The night exceeded all expectations and there were knowledgeable spectators who will recognise the quality of what they have seen - not just a rent-a-crowd.''

If the Dragons were fortunate it was in meeting a Wigan team that seemed bent on self-destruction. From the knock-on in the first set of tackles that set up the first French try, to Pat Richards' fumble five minutes from time, they had the knack of making errors at all the most damaging times.

After the match their coach, Ian Millward, was furious with the referee, Ashley Klein, and some of his rulings.

Klein did admittedly give the Catalans two highly debatable penalties for ball stealing in the second half, from both of which they scored tries.

On the other hand, some of his decisions were harsh on the French, particularly when he sent Fakir to the sin-bin for a high tackle that was borderline at worst.

"I don't want to use the referee as an excuse,'' Millward said. "We weren't consistent enough and we weren't tough enough in key areas.''

Wigan were not helped by Danny Orr being forced to delay his entrance into the game by illness, but there were too many other players in an extensively rebuilt side who were distinctly off colour.

They had much to reflect upon on the way home from the south of France, while the Catalans now face the challenge of exporting this sort of form when they play their first away game at Salford on Friday.

Catalan Dragons: Frayssinous; Murphy, Sadaoui, Wilson, Hughes; Rudder, Jones; Beattie, Rinaldi, Fellous, Guisset, Fakir, Hindmarsh. Substitutes used: Guigue, Chan, Jampy, Mounis.

Wigan: Ashton; Calderwood, Richards, Vaealiki, Dallas; O'Loughlin, Moran; Logan, Higham, Palea'aesina, Tickle, Hansen, Tomkins. Substitutes used: Brown, Godwin, Seuseu, Orr.

Referee: A Klein (London).

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