Villeneuve held on to claim a 16-14 win over Albi in the delayed opening game of the second day at the French Magic Weekend in Carcassonne.
The planned opener between St Gaudens and Toulouse was called off after illness had hit the Toulouse camp, but the fans who were made to wait to see some action were treated to an arm-wrestle that went to the wire.
Baptiste Dubertrand’s try on 52 minutes proved to be the final score of the game during a spell where the Leopards played some of the best attacking rugby seen over the two days.
Albi had the first real chance of the game, former Sheffield player Maxime Garcia attempting to take advantage of no markers close to the line, only to be held up in goal as he sought to break the deadlock.
Villeneuve would open the scoring on 12 minutes, new signing Latrell Schaumkel bringing the ball inside from right centre, beating a couple of men and having too much pace and power to be stopped from 10 metres out.
The Tigers were enjoyed much of the territorial advantage, but their last tackle kicking left a lot to be desired, and they were fortunate that errors enabled them to build pressure on the Villeneuve line that would ultimately lead to their opening score.
Luc Franco’s first kick was fumbled by a defender for six more, and then a miserable attempted grubber fell back at Franco’s feet via a defender to gift six more.
Eventually, after 14 tackles on the Leopards line, Cedric Mazars proved too much to stop as he trundled over from close range to level the scores at six-apiece.
Villeneuve hit back straight away, and a nice move left saw Thomas Lasvenes’ pass looking for his left winger prove too strong and the chance was gone.
Franco scored a penalty from under the posts to edge Albi in front at 8-6, but that lead was short lived as three minutes later, just after the hour mark, Maxence Carrasco raced over on the right.
A topsy-turvy encounter continued in to the second half, Albi taking five minutes to regain the lead, Alex Grant’s converted try putting them 14-12 in front.
But the Leopards started to open up, and after two breaks down the middle that went through a number of hands, Dubertrand was able to scoot over from dummy half to give them a two point lead that they would hold for the remainder of the game.
They could have settled it shortly before the hour mark, another break down the middle resulting in Brad Wall being held down by Grant, who received a 10 minute sinbinning for the professional foul.
Albi tried to rescue the game at the death, but two poor kicking options from Franco and Julien Cance summed up their offensive deficiency and the Leopards start the season with four points.
Line-ups and scorers
Albi: Cance, Pedrero, Bianchini, Lescouzeres, Deburghgraeve, Franco, Grant, Estruga, Carivenc, Nzoungou, Dupuy, Lardot, Garcia. Subs: Murphy, Mazars, Rodrigues, Cousinie.
Tries: Grant, Mazars. Goals: Franco 3.
Sin bin: Grant
Villeneuve: Lasvenes, M Carrasco, Nicolas, Schaumkel, Melhout, Godinet, Wall, Masselot, Gautier, Nikolic, Maria, Dubertrand, L Carrasco. Subs: Ousty, Hermosilla, Tabu, Maria.
Tries: Schaumkel, M Carrasco, Dubertrand. Goals: Lasvenes.
Sin bin: Tabu
Half time: 8-12