Racing Metro 92 pays host to Castres Olympique this evening (6:30PM) for an electrifying encounter at Yves du Manoir. A win is essential for the Ciel et Blanc if they are to keep their hopes alive in the Top 14, while the return of so many internationals promises a number of fascinating duels. (Credit photo : Emilie Manchon)
Has Racing Metro got what it takes to grab a place in the top six of the French championship? That is the question over-riding the crucial encounter at Yves-du-Manoir this evening. And in order to answer it, with only six dates remaining in the qualifying round, the Franciliens have the opportunity to measure themselves against an outstanding opponent: the reigning Top 14 champion, Castres Olympique.
On the purely personal level, this will no doubt be a rather special game for the Ciel et Blanc coaches Laurent Labit and Lauret Travers, who coached Castres to the national title last season. Not to mention Marc Andreu, an essential part of the Brennus-winning Castrais in 2013. “I had a fantastic adventure with Castres, but that is in the past, and today I am 100% Racingman,” insisted the international winger. “It was always going to be emotional, but on the field there are no friends. If I have to make a heavy tackle or step on a guy lying on the ground, I’ll just do what has to be done. And afterwards we’ll go and have a drink together.”
Currently third on the Top 14 table, Castres has just come off a heart-stopping win against Toulouse, working their way back from a 19-point deficit just before half-time to clinch the game 29-27. And this, despite the absence of two of their players on Scotland duty, Richie Gray and Max Evans, plus four others with the French XV – Brice Dulin, Rémi Talès, Yannick Forestier and Brice Mach – a record for the club.
As proof of the current rude health of today’s visitors, with Antonie Claassen and Rémi Lamerat also getting the Six Nations call-up to prepare Scotland–France with les Bleus next week, Castres Olympique now has a total of six players in the French XV, more than any other team in the Top 14.
A week after losing to Bordeaux-Bègles (25-9), however, the Ciel et Blanc will also be able to count on the invaluable presence of their numerous internationals. Although Ireland’s playmaker Jonny Sexton is out with a hand injury, today’s team features the four Racingmen in the France squad to play Scotland, Dimitri Szarzewski, Wenceslas Lauret, Maxime Machenaud and Marc Andreu, as well as the three Welshmen who beat les Bleus last week in Cardiff, Mike Phillips, Dan Lydiate, and Jamie Roberts.
Accordingly, expect some fascinating individual duels on the historic Yves-du-Manoir pitch this evening: between the French XV’s two hookers, Szarzewski and Mach; between Max Machenaud and Rory Kockott at scrum-half; between the Springbok Juandre Kruger and the Scottish giant Richie Gray at lineout time; between the power of Jamie Roberts and the brilliance of Max Evans at centre…
“It will no doubt be a very emotional game for our coaches, but after the loss to Bordeaux, we have to set things right,” insisted Roberts, one of the top performers at the Millennium Stadium last Friday night. “We have huge respect for Castres, they are reigning champions of France, and they pulled off a huge performance against Toulouse.”
For Roberts, Castres can even be seen as an example to be followed. “Last year, throughout the season Castres was never really in the top four. But when it came to the crunch they beat everyone to the winning post. I just hope that we can do the same! he enthused. “I have never played against Castres, but I can’t wait for it, especially at home in Colombes.”
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