How the CO final turned into a fiasco

At the Stade de France,

But what went through Geoffrey Palis’ head in the 5th minute of this Top 14 final? Renowned for his reliability, the 30-year-old Castres winger came out of yet another high-end performance in the half against Stade Toulousain (24-18). However, this part of the CO opted for an incomprehensible “over” for himself instead of putting a big blow of tatane, much preferable when you are in front of his 22 meters. Ten seconds later, Arthur Vincent, on receiving the ball then at the conclusion of the action, planted the first try of the Montpellier trip (29-10).

“Geoffrey is trying something he has never done all year, it turned against him and against us, regretted Pierre-Henry Broncan, CO coach, in the mixed zone. It starts their match and it penalizes us a lot. In the wake of this first achievement, Florent Verhaeghe, in force (10th), then Anthony Bouthier, after a high-class action (12th), in turn curled up in the Tarn in-goal like cats in a moving box.

If Benoît Paillaugue managed only one conversion, a penalty from the future Toulon scrum half allowed Philippe Saint-André’s team to lead 20-0 after 20 minutes of play. It was cooked, bent, torched for Castrais yet accustomed to catastrophic starts, as in the semi-finals with a try from Toulousain Matthis Lebel from the 2nd minute.

But this time, the five-time champions of France could not return. Retired since Saturday evening, the second row Loïc Jacquet (37) takes stock of the Castres slag, like a small shop of rugby-style horrors: “hand faults, gross indiscipline, missed tackles”. “In the first 20 minutes, it’s not us, adds the former international. We knew we were playing a team that often scores when it comes from 22 meters. She killed the entrance match. »

But why ? What happened so that the machine of the first of the regular phase goes out of order faster than a watch won at the carnival? His courage and his state of mind had so far allowed him to overcome his difficulties in conquest, again blatant in the first half on Saturday. This time, they were prohibitive. So, we try to launch some tracks.

The early exit of Benjamin Urdapilleta

19 points in half against Toulouse, as in the 2018 final against Montpellier. At 37, the Argentinian, audaciously nicknamed the Maradona of Sidobre by Noon Olympic, remains the indisputable master at playing the CO. However, the opener-scorer had to limp out in the 14th minute on Saturday.

“When you lose one of your best players, it’s always complicated but you shouldn’t hide behind that,” says Broncan, joined by Jacquet. “I don’t think having our striker would have changed the situation, it’s a collective bankruptcy. “After all, there was already 0-17 when “Urda”, holder of the record for points in the Top 14 in a match (33, February 13, 2021 against… the MHR) had to bend the saplings.


It’s hard to be more experienced than Castres on Saturday, with its backbone of thirty-year-old grognards (Dumora, Palis, Combezou, Urdapilleta, Jacquet, Hounkpatin, Ngauamo), not to mention Captain Babillot, despite his “little ones” 28 years old. However, according to Loïc Jacquet, the light of the spotlights, aimed for once on the CO at least as much as on his opponent, could blind some of them.

Geoffrey Palis and the Castres had a bad evening.
Geoffrey Palis and the Castres had a bad evening. – Anne-Christine Poujoulat / AFP

“You have to be able to manage, maybe for some, especially the young people, the pressure was too strong, assures one of the five Tarnais already present on the sheet during the final four years ago (with Dumora , Combezou, Urdapilleta and Babillot), against only Van Rensburg on the Hérault side. The MHR gave us back the coin compared to 2018 [succès tarnais, 29-13]. Much has been said about Castres in the media. The Montpellier residents, we did not hear them. »

Perhaps Jacquet is thinking of the Uruguayan scrum half Santiago Arata (25), so attractive in the half and so erased in the final. Meanwhile, 36-year-old Rory Kockott has been following the final stages of his career as a mere extra, out of the group of 23.

Too late a reaction

“At 23-3 at halftime, I tell the players to score fast,” Broncan said. They come three times in the in-goal, but fail to conclude. “Faced with Montpellier who managed their lead, the Castres indeed returned conquerors from the locker room, even in the scrum where they had suffered so much in the first period, with the help of substitutes launched earlier than expected, given the situation. desperate. But they never managed to break through the Hérault wall, because of a clumsiness or an opposing hand which was dragging under the ball.

Fijian center Vilimoni Botitu saved the CO's honor.
Fijian center Vilimoni Botitu saved the CO’s honor. – Christophe Ena / AP / Sipa

Until Vilimoni Botitu’s try, five minutes from the end, which only served to limit the damage and not end with a single and unfortunate penalty on the clock. More generally, the CO has experienced this kind of “without” evening where you quickly smell that you will have to put off your dreams of glory until later, between unusual faults and an irresistible opponent.

The talent of the MHR

Because the main explanation for the Tarn shipwreck is indeed in the camp opposite. Castres did not lose against Tartempion-les-Deux-Collines but against an MHR sure of its strengths and a still implacable realism. “Montpellier was very strong, pragmatic, solid on its bases, on defense, on conquest…” enumerates Mathieu Babillot.

At number 8, the incredible Zach Mercer ended his season as he had led it so far: drum beating. Powerful and lively, the Englishman is also capable of delivering foot passes worthy of an opener, as on the first try signed by the “revenant” Arthur Vincent, author of an end to the alien championship at the end of eight months in the infirmary (“the crusaders, you know”)…

Montpellier's English n°8 Zach Mercer did some damage in the Tarn defense.
Montpellier’s English n°8 Zach Mercer did some damage in the Tarn defense. – Christophe Ena / AP / Sipa

“On the match, there is no picture, easily recognizes the now retired Jacquet. When you see the score, the face of the game, there are no regrets. “Not sure that Geoffrey Palis completely shares this analysis this Sunday.

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