December 14 2005
Ah, France. Good food; good wine; expensive, fizzy beer. And a big task ahead for visiting teams. Travelling Sale fans quaffed their pre-match drinks with hope tinged with fear. Then game time arrived. Pitprop looks up from his belly-pork baguette for long enough to relate the events that unfolded.
The travelling circus that comprises the European away support for Sale rolled into Castres on Thursday and Friday last week. Instant recognition lit up faces – “There’s Pronta and the Major – this must be Castres”! Café Cocina started to fill up in the afternoon and Mauricio Reggiardo must have been pleased to see us. Discussion of the forthcoming game focussed the minds of the gentlemen fans while some of the ladies seemed occupied with Shark ear-rings! All agreed that the game would be settled up front, Seigne would not send a pack on to the field that could not scrummage, maul and ruck, not to mention holding sway in the line-out. The consensus was that we had a great chance for an away win, provided our own bunch of finely-honed bruisers could stand up to the Frenchmen. PSA’s insider knowledge of the way Seigne thinks would surely supply sufficient ammunition for our boys.
Stade Pierre Antoine is another of those fantastic local stadiums that all French rugby-playing towns seem to have. Seating over 9,000 with three covered stands plus an open end, the visit of Sale attracted around 6,500. On a sharp late autumn evening, the tribes gathered beneath the bright floodlights. The gourmet discovery of this stadium were the grilled belly pork baguettes being sold like hot cakes for three euros a pop. Red wine was as prevalent as beer, and the whiff of gauloises was on the air.
Charlie was out early, practising his kicking. The teams were warming up beneath clouds of steamy breath. Sale looked a little more physical than Castres in their routines – a omen for the game to come? We took our seats, and the announcer warmed up the home fans, reading out the team of Castres “Ulimppeak”. The home fans were already vociferous, with drums beating in both the north and Gabarrou tribunes. The teams ran out and the officials appeared too, Ireland’s Alan Lewis having replaced Granny Whitehouse who stayed at home in Wales with a severe case of blown whistle! At last the moment had arrived – 3rd game, Pool 1, 2005-2006 Heineken Cup.
Sale’s only change to the announced team was PSA’s decision to go for a 5-2 split on the bench, with Coutts coming in, and Wiggy dropping out. Castres meanwhile had to cope not only with injuries to various first choices, but Romi Ropati and Paul Volley dropping out of wing and wing forward berths respectively and being replaced by teenager and France U-19 Yann Fior and France A representative Romain Froment.
Charlie kicked off, with Sale playing right to left in front of the Gabarrou, and were soon pressuring the home side. In the first scrum, Stu Turner was skewered by Hoeft, but righted things at the reset. Elvis made quick inroads but was stopped short of the 22. The opening exchanges were physical, to say the least. But the Sale pack is full of resilient hard men, and they allowed Castres little momentum. It was quickly apparent that les Tarnais were good at overloading attacking numbers against the defenders, but were unable to profit from it, as the Sale defence scrambled well under pressure. It also seemed that Yann Delaigue was out of sorts, his passing comparatively weak and inaccurate, and his kicking out of hand less than accurate, finding Sale’s back three more often than not. But it was Delaigue’s delicate chip through on four minutes that nearly brought Milford success.
Sale for their part commandeered possession for most of the first half, yet could not turn it into tries to begin with. The fact that they had not played together for five weeks clearly showed, as mistakes were made. And the severe physical nature of the game forced errors and penalties from both sides. When Lund overstepped his bounds on 7 minutes, the singing broke out from the North stand. It must be a great boost to a French side to hear “Allez, allez” ringing out from the crowd, but I had hoped not to hear it quite so soon. At this stage you would have expected a French national flyhalf kick to within 5 metres of the opposition goal line – Delaigue sliced it. The blue-helmeted Yann didn’t seem too keen on making his reacquaintance with Seabass – pity really, because Chabal kept seeking him out to extend his hand of friendship. One contact on 14 minutes bounced Delaigue and had him running, and the progress made caused les Castrais to leave their hands in in an attempt to slow the ball down. Advantage was played but referee Alan Lewis came back for the penalty on the right side of the Castres 22. Charlie took careful aim, ignoring the whistles from the banks of seats, and Sale were three points to the good.
Sheri received treatment a couple of times for his ankle, and the sight of him sitting on the turf was depressing. Fortunately he completed the match. Kees Meeuws had recently been featured in Midi Olympique’s magazine saying that, fascinated by Seigne’s methods, he was pushing a little less on the loosehead and a little more on the hooker. If Bruno is a subscriber, he must have been licking his lips. And pushing less on Sheri – don’t think so. The Sale front row slowly consolidated the upper hand in the tight.
Sale began to utilise their possession a little more aggressively, and the sight of Jason White breaking the defensive crust in the 17th minute brought the Sale fans to life. Unfortunately another fumble brought the move to a halt. Sale were still conceding penalties at the breakdown, Elvis being penalised a couple of times for leaving his feet.
The Castres pack began to get some joy from their pick and go, screening their pick up at the base well, and running off at wider angles then we are used to in the GP. On 20 minutes from a line-out on the Sale 22 they threw to the back and Rodrigo Capo-Ortega peeled to start the drive. This time they tightened the focus, running at the heart of the maul. Faure took it on before Capo-Ortega took charge again. He was brought to ground by Schoey but not held, and scrambled to his feet to cross the line. The Uruguayan’s Photo Album (his older brother prop Frederico is also at Castres) was featured in the December issue of the MidOl magazine – pity it wasn’t delayed a month to include a photo of this well-worked try. The photo of his strange head-patting celebration might have caused him some embarrassment though! Teulet duly turned five points into seven.
On 22 minutes Cueto was freed on the right side and rounded Fior and Teulet. Christophers' tackle just punched the ball free. Seven minutes later Charlie charged down Delaigue’s kick on the 22, but he couldn’t scoop it up. Both sides coughed up the ball at regular intervals. Sale’s building pressure finally told in the third minute of first half injury time when a succession of seven rucks led to Barrau cynically killing the ball, to be rewarded with yellow. The whistles from the crowd censured Mr Lewis’ decision. Sale took a 5m scrum from the penalty, Elvis stepped in to set up a ruck, Martens fed Charlie whose long feed bypassed the decoy Larrechea, and found Robinson. In a classical arcing run around Raffault just a hint of a stutter step held the thinning defence and Jason was through to score. Charlie converted and Sale went into half time leading 10-7.
The intensity dropped not one iota in the second half, and the percussion of the collisions echoed around the stands. Cueto’s chip and chase put Sale on the attack early on. The two Sebastiens combined to drive 20 metres but a poor pass put a temporary stop to the advance. Faure presented Sale with a kick straight out, and from resulting play Jason Robinson kicked down town. Delaigue fielded but his poor clearance kick dropped into Hodgson’s grateful arms on half way. Charlie chipped and caught, fed Taylor who, offside, had been lurking in touch, and who immediately turned it into White. Big Tam swatted off the attentions of Vigneaux and galloped 22 metres to score, in front of the travelling fans, who promptly went bonkers! Charlie added the conversion from wide out on the right.
Castres’ supporters motto is “Tous Ensemble avec CO”, and we saw the meaning of it then. The crowd, who had been quiet on occasion in the first half, weighed in on the CO side. For a French side ten points down it’s an unusual event. But the support held up to the end of the game, Charlie was whistled and boo’ed each time he kicked (to no visible effect) and the referee was roundly condemned at every opportunity (having been boo’ed ON to the field after halftime). Great atmosphere!
Vigneaux was immediately replaced by Roumieu, and les Tarnais were quickly back on the offensive, driving close to the tryline, raising, if it was possible, their intensity. The Sale defence was up to the task until, in the 50th minute, Teulet latched on to a Delaigue chip in midfield and Martens’ tackle wiped him out, but was adjudged high. Teulet’s role-play did nothing for the ref’s judgement, and Martens walked. The slo-mo revealed Martens’ arm went over the point of the shoulder and his hand on to the top of his chest. Teulet managed to get to his feet, went through his clockwork preparation routine and planted the ball between the posts.
Taussac replaced Puricelli, and Nacho trotted into familiar surroundings to replace Schoey, who had given his all. Teulet broke out from his 22 and Sheri first stopped and then disrupted a maul, and then he and Lobbe pulled it to ground. This was in Teulet's range and once again we were treated to the clockwork wind-up. Nothing clockwork about the kick, which sailed between the posts, bringing Seigne’s team back to 13-17 after 55 minutes. Albouy replaced Barrau to maximise the Tongan’s absence. Sale looked unsettled without a scrum half, and Larry attempted a drop-goal. The pack ignored all and Sheri was giving the Castres captain a hard time. Bruno nicked one against the head on the hour.
Teulet caught Charlie in the 22 and when the ball was spread left Cueto’s tackle stopped Fior. Lewis took it back for Charlie holding on, Teulet wound himself up and dragged Castres back to one point behind with an hour gone.
Sale kept the ball in the Castres half, and Lobbe forced a penalty for holding on. From the ten metres line far out on the left Charlie took the points to a cacophony of sound, as the Castrais hammered on the corrugated iron of the stands. A four points difference restored and 14 minutes to go.
Castres continued to pressure, every decision against them being greeted with boos and whistles. White dragged down a maul with ten minutes to go, and Meeuws spurned Teulet's boot for Delaigue to put it into corner. Faure gave way to Gheizal. Chris Jones launched himself into orbit and pinched the ball. Tam White made up for the drag-down by turning a loose ball over, Larry cleared long, Albouy attempted to keep it in, but only succeeded in ushering the ball out for a Sale lineout. The ball was almost lost on the retreat but Lobbe got down and cleared up the mess. Chabal forced Taussac into an indiscretion and Charlie had another shot at goal, which just faded left.
Titterrell came on to replace the bruised and battered Bruno. His first throw-in was taken at the front by Lobbe, and Charlie launched the last of a string of up-and-unders, obviously part of the game plan. Teulet took it with ease. The tension and stress mounted and still the tackles went in. Castres mauled it up the right side, Lobbe splintered it and brought it down. Seconds later Jonesy hammered Delaigue as the friendly Seabass was not on hand. Seabass took a lineout and mauled it on. Charlie chipped for the opposite corner, and Cueto just missed the try. From the scrum CO ran it from their 5 metre line and Teulet was forced into a chip. Larrechea volleyed into the upper rows of the stand and the ref blew for full time.
Sale’s result was fantastic. Winning away at Castres is a feat that only two other European teams have accomplished. As Dewi Morris said later in Café Cocina “A win is a win, and this is a great win!” It even outstrips the away win at Leinster.
Three wins in this campaign equal the total number of wins achieved by Sale in the Heineken Cup prior to this season. And despite rustiness, mistakes and a first try from the home side, Sale’s mental determination held up under stress, as did the defence, for a first Heineken win in France. And for your reporter, it was the first win seen in France in five trips.
The local press was generous in their praise, saying that Sale were launched towards the quarters, and that they were an attractive team. French TV made White man of the match, but Dewi thought Chris Jones should have got it. “La Dépêche du Midi” gave it to Elvis. MidOl mentioned Chabal, Cueto, Robinson, White and Sheridan. L’Équipe went for Cueto, White, Turner and Sheridan. David Flatman on Sky also made mention of one of our unsung heroes, Stu Turner. Perhaps taken together they mean that a good team performance won the game despite mistakes. Best headline in the French papers was a pun on the French meaning of Sale – “Dirty Weather for CO”!!