Castres have waved the clearout wand and – in common with a number of Top 14 clubs – have started the process of refocusing on youth. There is still plenty of experience to count on… but how things work on the pitch remains to be seen.

Key signing

Uruguay scrum-half Santiago Arata, 23, heads to France with a growing reputation and the job of, eventually, taking over from marmite nine Rory Kockott… who is one of three vice-captains at the club this season. A mention, too, for Canada’s Tyler Ardron, who has quickly been handed a leadership role since joining from Chiefs.

Key departure

Rodrigo Capo Ortega: An excellent try on what turned out to be his last outing in the bleu-et-blanc was something to remember, but it was far from the farewell the 39-year-old deserved after 18 years and 400-and-some outings for the same club. ‘Capo’, one of 14 now-former players as Castres rapidly turn down the experience, is heading into an ambassadorial role.

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https://twitter.com/CastresRugby/status/1296015823996420098

They say

“The group needed renewal. We chose to bet on players with very strong potential.”

Coach Mauricio Reggiardo – Midi Olympique

We say

It seemed there was plenty wrong at Castres last season. They lacked lustre on the pitch and looked shorn of anything approaching a plan.

Problems, problems

Not all of it can be laid at the door of the ageing playing squad – and some of it was a long-lingering hangover from the previous season, the last under Christophe Urios, which ended badly. To be fair, successor Reggiardo hasn’t tried to hide from his part in the problems that plagued the club in the early skirmishes.

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Former Top 14 talisman Jamie Cudmore guests on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series

“We started to rectify the situation from December,” Reggiardo told Midol recently. “We had finally found the right operation.

“Before that, I believe that we had not sufficiently respected and maintained certain values of this club. It reminded us that these values are never acquired, that they must be constantly maintained.”

‘Success’ in Europe

The Challenge Cup, unusually, offered a rare highlight in an otherwise thoroughly abject season. Castres qualified for the quarter-finals with a 33-27 win at Worcester in the final match of the group phase to finish top of Pool One.

They are due to head to Leicester in September, with an outside chance of stealing a place in next season’s Champions Cup – despite finishing 10th in the Top 14.

There is little doubt Castres’ playing pool was in desperate need of refreshing. The oldest of this summer’s signings – Ardron and Kunatani – are 29. Four of the nine new faces are 23 or younger. Meanwhile, only four of the 16 departures are under 30. Capo was nearly 40; Karena Wihongi was 40.

Are you local?

Captain Mathieu Babillot and vice-captain Baptiste Delaporte, meanwhile, are Castres born and bred. Prop Antoine Tichit and full-back Geoffrey Palis were born just up the road in Gaillac. Academy graduate Jeremy Fernandez is from nearby Mazamet. It all feeds into the ‘small town, big team’ underdog image the club loves to play up and play to.

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More usefully, the squad now boasts more diverse skills in a range of positions, giving Reggiardo the ability to adapt the Castres style according to their opponents. Last season was, pretty much, a write-off. This season should see some strong consolidation. Word from the training ground is that this season should be better than the last.

One thing Castres must do – and urgently – is get to grips with their ongoing indiscretion issues. Giving away 20 penalties a game, as they did in their pre-season opener against Agen, isn’t going to cut it when the serious rugby starts.

Arrivals

Julius Nostadt, Gaetan Barlot, Tyler Ardron, Ryno Pieterse, Semi Kunatani, Stephane Onambele, Kevin Kornath, Santiago Arata, Adrea Cocagi, Vilimoni Botitu, Bastien Guillemin

Departures

Marc Clerc, Paea Fa’anunu, Tapu Falatea, Morgan Phelipponneau, Jody Jenneker, Paul Sauzeret, Rodrigo Capo Ortega, Christophe Samson, Victor Moreaux, Alex Tulou, Camille Gerondeau, Kevin Gimeno, Ludovic Radosavljevic, Robert Ebersohn, Julien Caminati, Taylor Paris

 

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