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Castres v Harlequins

By The Prof
August 20 2003

Harlequins were to play an exhibition match against Castres Olympique as part of the 10° Challenge Armand Vaquerin at the picturesque Stadium Municipale in Millau. The other teams involved were Millau, Montferrand, Beziers, Colomiers and Montauban. The game before ours was the hosts vs Beziers which the visitors won 5-12 in a match which was occasionally a touch feisty.

The temperature was still very high as our game kicked off in bright evening sunshine soon after 8pm.

The starting line up was

1. Mike Worsley
2. James Hayter
3. Jon Dawson
4. Bill Davison
5. Simon Miall
6. Roy Winters
7. Andre Vos
8. Tony Diprose
9. Ben Willis
10. Andy Dunne
11. George Harder
12. Mel Deane
13. Gavin Duffy
14. Matty Moore
15. Josh Taumalolo

Castres knocked on straight from the kick off giving Quins a scrum from which Taumalolo and Harder combined to make inroads into Castres territory. The defenders infringed at the breakdown and we were awarded a penalty twenty metres out which Andy Dunne duly slotted 0-3.

The restart ended with a lineout to Castres on our 22 which they won and, although Vos put in a crunching tackle, the attackers were awarded a scrum. There was some fine handling by the Castres backs and some good defence from Quins but finally a poor pass lead to a respite for Quins.

A good line out followed by a 20m rolling maul lead to a good Quins attack before a Castres forward lamped Mel Deane getting himself sin binned and giving away a penalty. Dunne kicked to touch to give a lineout 22m out. The ball was popped to George Harder coming on the crash ball and it took three defenders to stop him, the ball was then offloaded left to Worsley who made further yards before passing to Taumalolo coming up the left wing but he was shepherded into touch.

This first quarter was going well for Quins, Duffy looked hungry for the ball, Harder showed some powerful running, Taumalolo showed some silky skills and Vos’ defence was as strong as ever. The only problem so far was the scrum where the Castres pack played the referee well – they pushed and wheeled earlier than British referees would allow.

A penalty was awarded to Quins 40m out on a bit of an angle which was tricky and narrowly missed by Dunne.

Castres took a long drop out to touch, the throw went to Miall, a rolling maul was set up and the ball was spun out to Duffy who put in one of a number of very long kicks but unfortunately it didn’t find touch giving Castres a counter-attacking opportunity. They passed to their lock who thundered forward at pace until he encountered an uncompromising tackle from Josh Taumalolo which put him on his derriere with a bemused look on his face. A scrum was awarded to the French side which was disrupted and resulted in a penalty to Castres which they slotted from 25m out to level the score 3-3.

Castres were now retaining the ball for long periods (helped somewhat by the referee’s interesting way of only noticing about one infringement in three). A penalty was awarded to Castres for collapsing a scrum again about 20m out which again they scored, 6-3, 24 mins.

The Castres tight head came offside at a ruck soon after the restart as he tried to take out Roy Winters, Roy pushed him back about 5 yards with one arm and Dunne scored from the resulting penalty about 20m out to level the scores 6-6 on 27 minutes.

Castres were getting all the possession now and Quins were giving away too many penalties. Castres scored from another penalty after it looked like one of their forwards came in with a swing arm. 9-6, 29 minutes.

Castres were awarded another penalty 35m out for the front rows coming up in a scrum, again their kicker was successful, 12-6, 33 minutes.

George Harder showed some real pace up the right wing but he was sent just into touch. Quins stole the ball at the line out and Castres were penalised for being offside. The kick from 35m out on the right sailed over just inside the right hand post but the referee saw it differently and disallowed it so the score remained 12-6.

On the stroke of half time Quins gave away a soft try – a couple of missed tackles, a chip over the defence and an unlucky bounce stretched the French side’s lead to 19-6.

Castres started the second half well, they approached our line but dogged defence pushed them back 20 metres. Davison then went into a ruck to clear out one of their players but the referee gave a penalty to Castres.

A fantastic rolling maul from Quins made about 40 yards before the ball was sent out to the backs and was spilled. Castres again had the lion’s share of the possession and the referee’s decisions, Castres pushed closer and closer to our line and it was at this point that the ref. Sent JK and Turner away from the in goal area. JK & PT walked around the edge of the pitch towards the dug out as the referee stood with his arms crossed giving them a ridiculous stare that looked about as scary as Paddington Bear’s one. This held the game up for a couple of minutes – I presume he had basked in the crowd’s attention long enough and he allowed the game to restart.

Illegal use of the boot gave Quins a penalty which was kicked to touch 20m out. The lineout again worked well and the rolling maul trundled forward until it reached the line and Dawson went over to score. Dunne (pronounced juna by the stadium announcer) converted to cut the Castres lead to 19-13 with seventeen minutes to go. The next ten minutes was a story of long kicks and knock ons by both sides.

On 74 minutes Hayter was pulled off by the management and replaced by Ceri Jones – Ace was on the bench but his shoulder is still about two or three weeks away from being right. Ceri went into hooker although Dawson took the line outs.

Matty Moore made a typically mazy run but he was finally scragged and with the support being a bit slow to arrive the ball was turned over.

On 79 minutes Worsley took a bit of a knock to the head and was replaced by Laurent Gomez. With very little time remaining Quins had a 22m drop out, but there were so many dummies, feints and passes behind the line we messed up, Castres hacked the ball forward and Willis had to scurry back to touch down. This scrappy play was the last of the game and the score remained 19-13 to Castres.

Looking back on the game the score was probably fair although Quins had chances to score more. Again our defensive organisation was good when the opposition had long periods of possession.

The front row looked a bit messy in the tight, whether this is to do with the relative heights of the hooker and props or whether it was just that the Castres front row outplayed us I can’t really say. The forwards’ loose play was generally good although perhaps they were out muscled a bit by the powerful Castres forwards.

With Castres having a slight edge in the scrums and with their defence being up remarkably fast into our faces the Quins half-back pairing of Willis and Dunne didn’t have much time or space to do much.

Deane was his usual solid self and Duffy looks like a very talented and versatile player. A dream back three of the direct running Harder, smooth acceleration and excellent handling of Taumalolo and raw pace of Ugo Monye should provide a good few tries this coming season.

All in all the players and management seemed happy with the tour as a whole. Vos and Dawson all said how good the experience had been and how well the new players had fitted in. Three wins out of three would have been very nice but these games have allowed new combinations of players to be tried against pretty strong opposition. Simon Miall said the training and matches went fairly well but we have to get back into the routing of winning.

There are still two first team pre-season matches (Gwent Dragons and Saracens) and one second team one (London Welsh) to come where problems can be ironed out. There were no injuries to speak of, although Ugo picked up a dead leg which prevented him from playing in the Middlesex 7s.

It was a good tour from the fans point of view too – the Mayor of Millau even came over after the game to say what good support Quins had and that we were welcome back any time we wanted – there will be more (much more) in the irregular report on the DG web site later.

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