Preview: Montpellier v Castres

Date published: May 16 2014

After causing the biggest upset of the season, Castres face a familiar foe in a battle of the dark horses in Saturday's Top 14 semi-final.

A week after causing the biggest upset of the season, Castres Olympique face a familiar foe in a battle of the dark horses in Saturday's Top 14 semi-final at Lille's 50,000-capacity Stade Pierre Mauroy.

Many Montpellier fans will have that uncomfortable 'here we go again' feeling as their side face the defending Top 14 champions in the knockout stages for the fourth time in as many years.

In 2011 Montpellier beat CO in the play-offs – going on to loose narrowly to Toulouse in the final – but it was les Tarnais who came out on top in the last two years as they have become the figurative final hurdle at which Montpol have stumbled.

What's more, Castres won both the clashes between these sides during the regular season. In fact, CO's only win on the road this season came in Montpellier

Indeed, Castres have become somewhat of a bête noire for Montpellier who, despite an impressive season, will be feeling uneasy.

The problem for Fabien Galthié's side has been their inability to impose their game on Castres. Some senior Montpellier players admitted in the build up to be”stressed” by memories of previous games where they have lost their composure when faced with Castres's strangling tactics.

Les H̩raultais have the best attack in the Top 14 Рscoring 59 tries in 26 regular season games Рbut have come unstuck against Castres's much more conservative approach Рmuch the same way that Toulouse and Clermont came a cropper in last week's play-offs against sides using the Laurent Labit-Laurent Travers blueprint for knockout success.

While the former Castres duo's style bore fruit for Racing in Toulouse last week, Montpellier will take encouragement from the fact that they thrashed Racing a week early.

Galthié has promised that his team will stick to their guns and will not be dragged into an arm wrestle.

“We're going to stick to playing our style. It would be a shame not to play with our usual style.

“If a team doesn't take Castres lightly, it's us. We haven't often won against them.”

Don't expect the defending champions to change what works for them either. Last year their pragmatic approach took them all the way to the title and they will once gain rely on their accurate kicking game and formidable set-piece (both scrum and line-out) to squeeze their opponents into submission. Most of all, they have an uncanny ability to turn up in impressive form for the games that count.

“We were in a position of outsiders against Clermont,” said Castres lock Christophe Samson.

“We said to ourselves, 'we have to give everything so the season continues' and that worked.”

Montpellier have been boosted by the return of Fulgence Ouedraogo, who was expected to be ruled out, but has trained all week. Likewise Timoci Nagusa is expected to be fit.

The only change to the Montpellier side that beat Racing last time out sees Nagusa start on the wing ahead of Yoan Audrin. Ouedraogo starts on the bench.

Castres have made two changes to the side that beat Clermont, both in the front row, as Yannick Forestier and Brice Mach take over from Saimone Taumoepeau and Mathieu Bonello at loosehead and hooker respectively.

Players to watch:

For Montpellier: The Castres scrum is rock solid and many have suggested that the game may well be won in the set-piece battle, meaning French international prop Nicolas Mas will be an invaluable asset. Mas has struggled to adapt to the new scrummaging laws but remains a class act.

For Castres: South African scrum-half Rory Kockott was the hero of last year's final and was once again the star of the show in the shock win over Clermont. His accurate goal-kicking is a corner stone of the Castres recipe for success.

Head-to-head: Montpellier fly-half François Trinh-Duc has had an outstanding season but continues be overlooked by Philippe Saint-André's national squad, much to the bemusement of large sectors of the French press. He faces off with current Blues incumbent Remi Tales with a point to prove.

Form: Montpellier are in brilliant form, with eight wins form their last ten matches. Their only two losses since early January came on the road to Clermont and…Castres. In their last match, Montpellier crushed Racing Metro 44-10. Castres ended Clermont's 77-game unbeaten run on home soil win a 22-16 victory in last week's play-off but have not strung together back-to-back victories since mid-December.

Previous results:
2014: Castres won 22 -15 Montpellier
2013: Montpellier 16 – 20 Castres
2013: Castres 25 – 12 Montpellier
2013: Castres 26 – 20 Montpellier

Prediction: Castres have won the last four meeting between these sides but this is the first time they meet on neutral territory in the semi-finals. The champions have a habit a coming good when it matters most but Montpellier's demolition of Racing last time out suggests they are in top form. It'll be close, Montpellier by three.

The teams:

Montpellier: 15 Pierre Berard, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Anthony Tuitavake, 12 Wynand Olivier, 11 Rene Ranger, 10 Francois Trinh-Duc, 9 Jonathan Pelissie, 8 Alex Tulou, 7 Mamuka Gorgodze, 6 Alexandre Bias, 5 Thibault Privat, 4 Robins Tchale-Watchou, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Charles Geli, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.Replacements: 16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Sitaleki Timani, 19 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 20 Benoit Paillaugue, 21 Lucas Dupont , 22 Anthony Floch, 23 Paea Fa'anunu.

Castres:15 Brice Dulin, 14 Remy Grosso, 13 Romain Cabannes, 12 Remi Lamerat, 11 Max Evans , 10 Remi Tales, 9 Rory Kockott, 8 Antonie Claassen, 7 Yannick Caballero, 6 Piula Faasalele, 5 Rodrigo Capo Ortega, 4 Richie Gray, 3 Ramiro Herrera, 2 Brice Mach, 1 Yannick Forestier .Replacements: 16 Mathieu Bonello, 17 Saimone Taumoepeau, 18 Christophe Samson, 19 Jan Bornman, 20 Cedric Garcia, 21 Daniel Kirkpatrick, 22 Seremaia Bai, 23 Mihaita Lazar.

Date: Saturday, May 17
Venue: Stade Pierre Mauroy (Grand Stade de Lille)
Kick-off: 16.30 local (14.30 GMT)
Referee: Pascal Gauzere