French Top 14 Play-Offs: Toulon v Castres Preview


The first of this weekend's Top 14 play-off fixtures sees Toulon host unfancied Castres. 

Toulon and Castres square off at the Felix Mayol this Friday evening in a game that pits an all-star cast up against a bunch of French journeymen and young guns. Toulon have endured a sub-par season which could come to an abrupt halt should they underestimate Castres.

To Win (80 Mins)
Toulon 1/5 | Draw 22/1 | Castres 36/10

Toulon v Castres | Friday 19 May | Stade Felix Mayol | 21:00

To Win (80 Mins)
Toulon 3/10 | Draw 19/1 | Castres 26/10

The fact that Toulon have actually made it to this stage in the league tells you all you need to know about how big a farce the Top 14 has become. The Galacticos of world rugby have won just over half their games this term and yet they are in with a shout of making the final. While I fully understand that the Top 14 is a long season, with the 14 sides facing each other home and away, it still makes no sense to me that a team who has only won 14 of their 26 games gets a shot at the title. Anyway, we all know the top 14 is where the absurd meets rugby, and there’s little point of harping on about the issue.

So as you may have gathered from the intro, Toulon have endured a rather poor season. The reason for this? A massive over-reliance on their foreign superstars who have either been injured for large swathes of this season or whose form has been a little suspect.

Those aforementioned big guns will have to fire this weekend as Castres will be determined to put one over their much-fancied opponents. One man who will need to put his hand up is Welshman Leigh Halfpenny. The British and Irish Lions tourist put in a solid shift against Pau last week landing three kicks at goal and scoring a try. His ability to convert long-range kicks at goal may prove to be the difference this Friday evening

While Toulon have been wholly reliant on their superstars, Castres run to the knock-out phase has come courtesy of a real team effort. While there are some decent players on their books – both Rory Kockett and Robert Ebershon ply their trade for the club – most of the players who have featured for Castres are Frenchmen, and non-internationals to boot.

Catres may come into this one as rank underdogs but they have the capacity to cause an upset here. The last time they met Toulon at the Felix Mayol they were unlucky to end up on the wrong side of a 23-14 scoreline. They have also claimed some big scalps this term beating Clermont 26-16 in March. Their recent form is a slight cause for concern, however, with Christophe Urious’ men coming into this one off the back of a 33-27 defeat to mid-table occupants, CA Brive.

If Castres are to upset the apple cart here they’re going to need to ensure they slow down Toulon's ball at the breakdown. If they manage to do this, then the Toulon backs will have to create front foot ball on their own. And whilst Nonu and Basteraud – who both weigh in at well over 100 kilograms – more than capable of producing go forward ball from static situations, slow ball may give the Castres defence an opportunity to pin the two big men down before they get moving.

Verdict: Castres 36/10
It’s been a strange year in the Top 14 with promoted La Rochelle dominating proceedings. And I feel the upsets will keep coming as we reach the knock-out phase. My money is on unfancied Castres continuing the trend by getting a win this Friday evening.

Written by Darry Worthington for!

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