Henry Slade shows his old class as Exeter overcome card-happy Castres


They claim a home tie in the final 16, but Exeter looked as off-colour in overcoming a motiveless Castres as any of the English sides who have laboured through this year’s edition. Six tries and 40 points may look comfortable enough, but Castres defied expectation to cause their hosts real problems.

Exeter came up trumps in this one on the card lottery. Castres were shown four of them, one red, three in three minutes just before the break. In the 37th minute they were penalised by first a red, then a yellow, then a penalty try. It is a wonder they did not implode, given that reduced them to 12. That they did in the last 10 was sort of inevitable.

Castres have as bad a reputation in this tournament as any French team who might ever have shrugged their shoulders at an away assignment and, shall we say, not tried particularly hard. All the signs were here again – nothing to play for, three losses from three with no points, and another much-changed team.

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But they retained a spine of quality – not the least of whose components was Rory Kockott at scrum-half, the old stager called out of retirement. He rarely does things by half and led a feisty resistance from the start. An early penalty by Ben Botica, another richly experienced campaigner, gave Castres a lead, but their aggression forced Exeter into mistake after mistake, until the second quarter, when the hosts finally made one of their visits to Castres territory tell.

Henry Slade was as guilty as any of the fumbling men in pink, but all the old class returned as he swaggered over for Exeter’s first try in the 26th minute, after Jack Innard’s mini-break. It would be an exaggeration to describe that as settling the Chiefs’ rhythm.: their fabled pick-and-go routine was repelled again and again.

After Leinster had visited the West Country last weekend and shown at Gloucester how imaginatively the new trend for tapped penalties could be exploited, Exeter reminded us of the English way. Tap to self and charge. And do it again.

Castres’s Feibyan Tukino is shown a red card for a high tackle.
Castres’s Feibyan Tukino is shown a red card for a high tackle. Photograph: Ashley Crowden/JMP/Shutterstock

All the same, the tactic eventually led to Castres’s implosion with those three cards in three minutes. Baptiste Delaporte saw yellow for the umpteenth offence in defence of the Exeter barrage, but the Chiefs could not make it tell.

So three minutes later, Feibyan Tukino greased their wheels by becoming the latest player to see red for a high tackle (the 12th of this tournament) to reduce Castres to 13. When Exeter drove the penalty they sent to the corner, Mathieu Babillot, Castres’s captain, pulled the maul down to concede a penalty try and complete the evacuation of the visitors’ back row when he was shown yellow for his pains.

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Roundup: Lawes a Six Nations doubt after injury in Saints’ loss


Courtney Lawes limped off in the 29th minute of Northampton’s  31-13 defeat to La Rochelle in the Champions Cup to put in doubt his participation in this season’s Six Nations. Lawes has been beset with injuries of late and if he is ruled out it will be a serious blow to England’s chances of a successful campaign.

Phil Dowson, Northampton’s head coach, said: “Courtney doesn’t appear to be downbeat, he never is, but he felt he couldn’t continue. His calf tightened up, he hasn’t had an issue with it before but he will need to see the physio tomorrow and possibly have a scan so it’s fingers crossed.”

The loss of Lawes completed a miserable afternoon for Saints, as the centre Fraser Dingwall was sent off for a high challenge just 10 minutes after Lawes had left the field and the lock Lukhan Salakaia-Loto also received a red card in the dying moments.

The replacement hooker Quentin Lespiaucq-Brettes scored two tries for La Rochelle, Levani Botia, Ulupano Seuteni and Grégory Alldritt the others, with Antoine Hastoy kicking three conversions. Tom James scored a try for Northampton, with Fin Smith adding two penalties and a conversion. 

Leinster advanced to the last 16 as top seeds with a runaway 36-10 win over Racing 92 at the Aviva Stadium. The Irish province’s unbeaten record looked under threat until they cut loose with unanswered tries from Hugo Keenan (52nd and 69th minute), Josh van der Flier (65th), Jimmy O’Brien (73rd) and Garry Ringrose (80th+3).

Two tries from George McGuigan proved vital as Gloucester moved into the knockout stages with a sensational 26-17 victory at Bordeaux-Bègles. The hooker, who has been named in England’s Six Nations squad, crossed twice from driving lineouts as Gloucester completed the double over the French side to be the final qualifier from Pool A in the last 16.

Leinster’s success ensured the eighth and final place from their group remained open and Gloucester grabbed the opportunity. As well as McGuigan Albert Tuisue also crossed while a conversion and three penalties from youngster George Barton secured them a last-16 tie against either the holders, La Rochelle, or the record winners, Toulouse, in France in April. PA Media

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There was a feeling then that the rest of the match would be even more of a formality than expected at the start. Actually, 12-man Castres were a fingertip away from scoring a try a few minutes into the second half. Olly Woodburn aside, and occasionally Josh Hodge, Exeter remained flat, even as the clock ticked down and that bonus point unsecured.

It should come as no surprise that they eventually took it with two more sweaty lineout-and-drive routines. The first, in the 53rd minute was touched down by Sam Simmonds, but the Chiefs had to wait until the last 10 minutes to take the fourth try – this one by penalty try again, accompanied by a fourth card for Castres, yellow for Aurelien Azar.

Jack Nowell, quiet all match, finished sharply for Exeter’s fifth with two minutes to go, and Christ Tshiunza even more so with none to go, and Castres a 13-man rabble of exhaustion. A sprinkling of stardust, perhaps, but no one was fooled. This was hard work.

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( With inputs from : www.theguardian.com )

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