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News: HC: Saints Overcome Castres in Bras De Fer

By Saint Adam of Weedon
January 20 2014

The pre-match build-up was all about how the qualification scenarios for the next round of the Heineken (but probably the Amlin) Cup, and the words “bonus point” were thrown around with abandon. It’s easy to say with hindsight but the visit of the French champions, and a side sitting 3rd in the Top 14 this season, was unlikely to ever be a walkover, especially with the added handicap of the five day turnaround. And so it proved.


Northampton Saints 13 - 3 Castres Olympique

Heineken Cup Pool One - Round Six

Franklin's Gardens, Northampton. 17/1/14 8pm

Match Report


Friday evening kickoffs are not my cup of tea. With a 6pm finish at work and a strict gym routine to follow it leaves little time for pre-match libations, and I consider a trip to the rugby to be a half day activity involving socialising either side of a match, not a two hour rush job as Fridays prove to be. Strolling to Franklin’s Gardens from the town centre I heard a few French voices, reminding me that the match to come was one of those important European affairs. The mobile phone was double checked to ensure that I had Irish radio set up on “Tune In Radio” in case the Leinster match had a tense finish. Yes, I am an optimist at heart! I arrived at the ground in time to enjoy some overpriced sustenance from the Village and a pint of Guinness (it’s good for you!) to reward my hard work at the gym before taking up my spot in block R of the Church’s stand.

After the big domestic matches against Quins and Bath there was a noticeable drop-off in terms of both atmosphere and attendance for Friday’s game. The usual suspects in the terrace were doing their best to gee up the rest of the crowd but it wasn’t really happening. Maybe it was the Friday aspect, maybe it was the fact that our destiny was beyond our control but with some justification the majority seemed to regard proceedings as a spot of Friday night entertainment rather than a big match with big consequences. There was also a noticeable lack of visiting fans dans le corner grivois.

Once proceedings kicked off Saints started brightly, George Pisi with a kick and chase to the far corner (from my perspective) that following the lineout lead to a succession of scrums which Saints seemed certain to profit from. Alas, no points were forthcoming and that early frustration set the tone for the rest of the first half. Saints remained dominant at scrum time winning multiple penalties but Alain Rolland (French name, French Dad, speaks French: 100% Irish according to the powers that be) never saw fit to send a member of the Castres front row to the sin bin. All the while an impressive performance from Richie Gray meant that the Saints lineout never quite functioned properly and the big Scotsman seemed omnipotent in the loose as well, preventing Saints from ever getting quick ball from rucks. Even when the ball was presented promptly Monsieur O’Rolland’s wobbly offside line aided and abetted the French side’s impressive blitz defence that shut down any threat from the Saints’ halfbacks.

Just as the game seemed to be drifting serenely towards half time, the scorers no doubt enjoying a game of cards and a quiet drink, untroubled as they were, Castres took a quick lineout and Grosso raced under the posts for a try whilst the Saints players stood stock still and the crowd barely reacted. Try? No try? L’arbitre irlandais decided that the TMO was required and for once the decision was swift: no try due to an illegality at the lineout. The consensus round our way was that Castres threw the ball in from in front of the mark, but I’ve since seen elsewhere that they used the wrong ball. Either way, a let off from Saints after a poor kick from George Pisi and the cardinal sin of taking eyes off the ball. A penalty from Stephen Myler on the stroke of half time ensured that Saints at least took the lead, and the scorers started to earn their coin. A check of my phone informed me that events in Dublin were not going our way, Leinster leading 10-3 at half time and Ian Evans of Ospreys taking an early bath for stamping on somebody’s head. Game over at the RDS then, and only Connacht able to help Saints to the Heineken quarter-finals…assuming that we managed to do our job.

For a report on the second half, please re-read my previous comments on the scorers, Richie Gray and frustration. It should be added that Castres and Saints both defended manfully, with the French side finally getting something of a foothold at scrum time and managing a couple of line breaks. One menacing run from Garvey seemed to be a nailed on try against the run of play, but with only one man to beat the winger lost his footing and the visitors’ only chance went by the wayside. Castres managed to level things up with a long distance penalty goal and we returned to a tense arm wrestle of a game with few chances.

To give Saints their due the players were giving it everything, trying little combinations and pop passes, but nothing was coming off. Both sides seemed to be incredibly weary and it was obvious that the physical toll of two huge games of rugby in well under a week was impacting negatively on the spectacle. A lesson for the organisers of any future European competitions: your product is damaged by treating rugby players like robots.

Those who remained in the stands and on the terrace past the 75 minute mark were treated to a veritable points fest in the last few minutes of the game. First Kahn saw his opportunity to earn a cheap penalty by throwing the ball at the head of a Castres forward who was dilly-dallying in an offside position at a ruck. Myler stepped up and slotted what seemed certain to be the winning points, but that wasn’t all! As the clock ran down and Castres tried desperately to clear their lines George Pisi got his reward for an evening of endeavour, charging down a kick and racing on to the bouncing ball to dive spectacularly over the line for the game’s only try. A reward for Pisi and all the chilly fans who had braved it out until the bitter end. Myler did the honours with the conversion to give Saints a 10 point victory and a likely quarter final in the Amlin.

Post- match I was surprised to read critical comments about certain players and our overall play. Yes, we had witnessed a match that fell far short of the quality of previous games this season, at least from an attacking sense, but everything needs to be taken in context. We played against a very gifted side and the players out there were playing a second match of top quality rugby in a very short space of time. They tried and tried but tired legs and tired minds ensured that the usual sparks didn’t fly. To neutralise a very decent side such as Castres and come through with a hard fought victory speaks volumes for the ability of this side to adapt to conditions and prevail even when not at 100%. This group of men still has the momentum, is still on a winning run and the only regret is that they now depart for the Six Nations and risk losing that momentum. This proverbial “game for the purists” won’t live long in the memory but for this fan it speaks volumes about the potential within the side.

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News: HC: Saints Overcome Castres in Bras De Fer (IP Logged)
20/01/2014 16:24
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2014:01:20:19:38:32 by Phil..

Re: News: HC: Saints Overcome in Castres Bras De Fer
Phil. (IP Logged)
20/01/2014 16:29
Many thanks, Adam! (Sm13)

David (St M) - feel free to amend and add video interviews etc. It would appear there has been some faffing around with the publication software in admin! (Sm16)

Casual Saint
Re: News: HC: Saints Overcome in Castres Bras De Fer
Casual Saint (IP Logged)
20/01/2014 17:07
Thanks, a very balanced and fair report. It's always good to leave it a couple of days before looking back on the match. I'm certainly seeing it in a different light than I did straight after the final whistle.

Once a scrum half .... always a scrum half

Re: News: HC: Saints Overcome in Castres Bras De Fer
tedge (IP Logged)
20/01/2014 17:10
That was the game I watched and not an easy one to find interesting things to say about. A small point of order for those who left before the end it was actually Glen Dickson who converted the try.

Re: News: HC: Saints Overcome in Castres Bras De Fer
20/01/2014 17:30
Gargh! You're absolutely right Tedge, my apologies to Mr Dickson and thanks for the kind comments people

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2014:01:20:17:31:03 by Saint Adam of Weedon.

Re: News: HC: Saints Overcome in Castres Bras De Fer
Howlin (IP Logged)
20/01/2014 17:45
great report, very much echoes my views too.

(Btw the ball was kicked into the crowd by Pisi therefore a quick lineout was never a possibility)

Saint 'til I die

Re: News: HC: Saints Overcome in Castres Bras De Fer
Stockers (IP Logged)
20/01/2014 19:02
Thanks very much Adam and your final comments echo my own about the fact that Saints were playing one of the top French sides and not some minor Welsh franchise, hence the tightness of the game.

Re: News: HC: Saints Overcome Castres in Bras De Fer
tedge (IP Logged)
21/01/2014 17:03
"some minor Welsh franchise" ? Oo-er[:wor kid:]

Re: News: HC: Saints Overcome Castres in Bras De Fer
oddshapedballs (IP Logged)
21/01/2014 19:53
Given the last 16 teams in European competition. Yes, count them, 16. You would be hard put to it to describe any franchises that hadn't made the list as major. No matter what the colour of their jersies or the geography of their home ground.

Seven of these minor franchises will have an automatic qualification to the top table beano next season, too, if the reactionaries in charge of free-loading continue to hold sway.


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