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Saturday, June 1, 2013

Toulon Gets Castres-ated in French Final

Like a lot of people, I thought that the French Final would come down to Toulon against Clermont Auvergne. They finished one-two in the regular season standing for the Top 14 and they played out an epic final for the Heineken Cup two weeks ago in Dublin, where Johnny Wilkinson and his merry band of mercenaries in red and black prevailed over Vern Cotter's(who just became the coach for Scotland) men.
Olympique Castres: Shock winner's of Le Bouclier de Brennus, the holy grail of French Rugby

Somebody forgot to show Olympique de Castres the script. They smoked Montpellier-a H-Cup quarterfinalist in the first round playoff. Then they shocked Clermont Auvergne in the semi-finals in Nantes. So much for a rematch between Toulon and Clermont Auvergne.

 Castres as last lifted Le Bouclier de Brennus in 1993. It had been even longer for Toulon, who were last the champs of France in 1987.  Most people, myself included, thought that Bernard Laporte's band of internationals would smoke Castres at the Stade de France today. Castre's 19-14 upset today in Saint-Denis showed why sport can be such an unpredictable and amazing thing.

Toulon had a lot of early ball possession, and French inside center Mathieu Bastareaud was running hard and making life tough for the men from Languedoc. Johnny Wilkinson just missed on a 40 yard drop goal attempt and came a couple of yards short on a 51 yard penalty attempt.

It looked like it was going to be tied at half-time, when Freddie Michalak muffed a kick for a knock-on, which gave Castres a nice attacking scrum in Toulon Territory. Most people thought that Castres would  go for the drop goal-but then South African-born fly half Rory Kockott did an amazing little bit of slight of hand, broke a tackle, and planted under the posts for a try, which visibly shocked the team from the Var.

In the second half, Wilkinson was able to get Toulon to within a point, 9-10, when Tale was able to hit a couple of nice drop goals for Castres, and Kockott added a penalty to put the game out of reach, meaning that Delon Armitrage's( who was whistled every time he touched a ball in the final by the Castres faithful.) try in the 80th minute was mere consolation for Toulon, as Castres shocked the European champs, 19-14, to lift le Bouclier de Brennus for the fourth time in team history.

It was a nice way to walk off in the sunset for Castres Coaches Laurent Travers and Laurent Labit, who will be taking over at Racing Metro 92 in Paris for the 2013-14 season.