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Exeter thrash Castres to secure home tie in last 16 of Champions Cup

By PA

Exeter secured a home tie in the Heineken Champions Cup round of 16 after beating Castres 40-3 at Sandy Park.

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The Chiefs required a bonus-point victory to guarantee a top-four finish in Pool A, and they duly delivered despite never remotely hitting top gear.

They were helped by Castres’ woeful indiscipline that saw number eight Feibyan Tukino sent off for a dangerous tackle just before half-time, while flankers Baptiste Delaporte and Mathieu Babillot were both yellow-carded, along with prop Aurelien Azar.

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It meant that the visitors were briefly reduced to 12 players, yet Exeter did not secure a five-point maximum until seven minutes from time through a second penalty try.

England internationals Henry Slade, Sam Simmonds and Jack Nowell also touched down, as did Wales forward Christ Tshiunza, in addition to a first-half penalty try, with Slade kicking two conversions and Joe Simmonds one.

Castres were restricted to an early Ben Botica penalty, and while it was a game that will not live long in the memory, 2020 European champions Exeter will feel relieved to have got the job done.

Castres’ misery in top-flight European competition continues, though, as they suffered an eighth successive defeat and 20th reversal on the bounce away from home.

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Exeter showed five changes for their final pool game, including starts for centre Rory O’Loughlin, prop James Kenny and Jannes Kirsten, who partnered Dafydd Jenkins in the second-row.

Castres, eliminated before they arrived in Devon following three successive defeats, predictably made wholesale switches, fielding only three starting line-up survivors from last weekend’s home loss to Edinburgh.

Botica kicked Castres ahead through a 40-metre penalty and Exeter looked lethargic during the opening 15 minutes.

The Chiefs’ discipline was poor and skipper Slade twice made handling errors under little pressure as Castres made life distinctly uncomfortable.

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Exeter’s scrum came under intense pressure during the opening quarter and Botica was narrowly wide with another long-range penalty attempt after the Chiefs’ latest set-piece infringement.

Wing Olly Woodburn was the one player who tested Castres’ defence early on, and Exeter finally put together a meaningful passage of play that resulted in a 26th-minute try for Slade.

Woodburn and prop Josh Iosefa-Scott made initial inroads before hooker Jack Innard cut the line and delivered a scoring pass to Slade, who converted his own try.

Exeter looked to add a second score before the interval and their cause was helped when Delaporte received a yellow card from referee Andrew Brace.

Castres then went down to 12 players during a shambolic finish to the first half from their perspective.

Tukino saw red, then from the resulting lineout, captain Babillot illegally collapsed a maul and Brace awarded a penalty try before sending the Castres skipper packing.

It meant that Castres had lost their entire starting back-row through two yellows and one red in the space of four minutes, and Exeter took a 14-3 lead into the break.

Exeter still lacked fluency, despite their numerical advantage, and it took them 13 minutes of the second period to add a third try, which arrived in trademark fashion.

Castres had no answer as the Chiefs pack drove a close-range lineout, and Simmonds touched down before Slade’s conversion took Exeter past 20 points.

Exeter struggled to stitch threatening phase-play together and it was no surprise when the bonus-point arrived from a driven maul, with Castres collecting another yellow card as Azar was sin-binned, then Nowell and Tshiunza pounced in the dying minutes.

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Jon 1 days ago
Why Sam Cane's path to retirement is perfect for him and the All Blacks

> It would be best described as an elegant solution to what was potentially going to be a significant problem for new All Blacks coach Scott Robertson. It is a problem the mad population of New Zealand will have to cope with more and more as All Blacks are able to continue their careers in NZ post RWCs. It will not be a problem for coaches, who are always going to start a campaign with the captain for the next WC in mind. > Cane, despite his warrior spirit, his undoubted commitment to every team he played for and unforgettable heroics against Ireland in last year’s World Cup quarter-final, was never unanimously admired or respected within New Zealand while he was in the role. Neither was McCaw, he was considered far too passive a captain and then out of form until his last world cup where everyone opinions changed, just like they would have if Cane had won the WC. > It was never easy to see where Cane, or even if, he would fit into Robertson’s squad given the new coach will want to be building a new-look team with 2027 in mind. > Cane will win his selections on merit and come the end of the year, he’ll sign off, he hopes, with 100 caps and maybe even, at last, universal public appreciation for what was a special career. No, he won’t. Those returning from Japan have already earned the right to retain their jersey, it’s in their contract. Cane would have been playing against England if he was ready, and found it very hard to keep his place. Perform, and they keep it however. Very easy to see where Cane could have fit, very hard to see how he could have accomplished it choosing this year as his sabbatical instead of 2025, and that’s how it played out (though I assume we now know what when NZR said they were allowing him to move his sabbatical forward and return to NZ next year, they had actually agreed to simply select him for the All Blacks from overseas, without any chance he was going to play in NZ again). With a mammoth season of 15 All Black games they might as well get some value out of his years contract, though even with him being of equal character to Richie, I don’t think they should guarantee him his 100 caps. That’s not what the All Blacks should be about. He absolutely has to play winning football.

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