At the risk of finding yourself tricard in the Tarn and in the Hérault, let’s admit that the final of the Top 14, Friday at the Stade de France at 8:45 p.m., does not sell dreams. So much so that no one would have thought of betting a pint, at the start of the season, on a Castres-Montpellier poster… which will nevertheless be the remake of 2018. This axiom established, we must however admit the consistency of the epilogue, being a duel that will simply oppose the teams having finished the regular season in first and second place in the standings. And who have therefore overcome the pitfall of the knockout finals.
Because neither Toulouse nor Bordeaux, unfortunate semi-finalists a week earlier in Nice, have managed the cash. Grouped together at the Allianz Riviera, the two matches constituting the penultimate stage of the 2021-2022 season were sold in situ under the curious name of “sports spectacle”. Not sure at all, in this respect, that the final meets the criteria required to capsize the crowds, in Saint-Denis, and, even less, to boost the TV audience (Canal + and France 2) in prime time. But, well, as the other would say, the important thing, at this stage of the competition, is clearly no longer to participate, but to win. Including in the least shimmering of ways.
Goldsmiths of uncertain charisma
However, if the contenders have come to this, they only owe it to themselves (a ranking established over 26 matches played, including 17 won by Castres Olympique, does not lie)… and a little also to a calendar national and international exhausting which, at the end of the exercise, weighs in the balance, but not everywhere the same weight: when Fabien Galthié announced at the end of January, his list of 42 players called to prepare for the Six Nations Tournament, the number of players summoned in the squads of the finalists could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and the clubs were therefore able to work in continuity. Before in the European Cup, La Rochelle, Toulouse or Racing, but also Lyon, already great providers of individuality among the Blues, consume themselves a little more. Unlike Castres – which has never shone in this event – and, to a lesser extent, Montpellier… Which we find at the end of the road.
Regarding the CO, the recidivism is breathtaking, as it is a club that we persist in taking a little high, when, already champion in 2013 and 2018 (as well as in 1949, 1950 and 1993), it could become, in case of victory, the most successful French team of the last ten years. Only here, no glamor permeates the banks of the Agout, where the tenth budget of the championship (sports showcase of the powerful pharmaceutical laboratories Pierre Fabre) is used to remunerate goldsmiths with the most uncertain charisma. Like the Argentinian conductor Benjamín Urdapilleta, a plucked veteran who, a few days ago, muttered that you have to make more efforts in Castres than elsewhere to succeed – pipeau of course; from the rear Julien Dumora, who, also at the age of early retirement (and without the slightest cape with the XV of France), remains a permanent poison for the opposing defenses; or Captain Mathieu Babillot (a Chartrain born of an Auvergne mother and a Central African father), who spends as much time talking with the referee as clearing away.
Not enough to incite excitement, even if, from an “image” point of view, Montpellier also has a lot of room for improvement in ovality: unlike cities like Toulouse, La Rochelle, Clermont or Toulon, the seventh municipality of France does not breathe rugby with the same fervor, which can also allow you to grow in adversity. Its wealthy owner-president, Mohed Altrad, remains unpopular, including at the local level – candidate in the last municipal elections, he had obtained only 18% of the votes in the second round – and will even be judged in September with his friend Bernard Laporte, the president of the federation, “influence peddling and illegal taking of interests”. His manager, Philippe Saint-André, is looking for rehabilitation, after having embodied the most gloomy hours of the XV of France, whose disappointments he shelled from 2011 to 2015. As for the workforce, he has regularly been caricatured for its South African diaspora, partly made up of dubious nags, the casting error culminating in the recruitment in 2019 of world champion opener Handre Pollard, the best paid player on the planet, long injured and who, for lack of having never met expectations (two minutes on the pitch in the semi-finals, where he was only a substitute), is about to slip away to Leicester.
So many obvious “tares” which, thus piled up, nevertheless ended up transforming the pumpkin into a carriage. Unless, fable for fable, the Castres turtle comes to play a new nasty trick on an opponent who, badly beaten four years ago when he was favorite, thinks, like his scrum half Benoît Paillaugue , that it is high time to “mark the history of the club”failing that of French rugby, by winning a first title.