Castres prove Top 14 final was no fluke
Castres center Remi Lamerat is tackled by Toulon's Mathieu Bastaraud (right) and captain Jonny Wilkinson (centre) on September 14, 2013 during their French Top 14 rugby Union match in Castres. Castres repeated their Top 14 final victory over European champions Toulon with a hard-fought 22-15 success.
The French champions had stunned their illustrious foes in June's final at the Stade de France in Paris but they showed that was no fluke with another gritty display.
Hooker Brice Mach scored the only try of the game for the hosts at the Stade Pierre-Antoine as South African scrum-half Rory Kockott, the hero from June's final, slotted over 17 points from four penalties, a conversion and a drop goal.
Toulon goal-kicker Jonny Wilkinson was almost as deadly with the boot, scoring all his team's points from four penalties and a drop goal, to ensure they picked up the defensive bonus.
However, defeat means the league leaders could lose their place at the Top 14 summit later on Saturday if either Clermont or Stade Francais win at home to Grenoble or Brive respectively.
Toulon had made the early running with two Wilkinson penalties putting them in the ascendancy.
Kockott replied with a penalty of his own before a huge drop goal from halfway levelled the scores, only for Wilkinson to nudge the European champions ahead again with his third successful effort.
But the turning point came just before the end of the first half as Castres got a rolling maul going and Mach burrowed over.
Kockott kicked the extras to send Castres into the interval leading 13-9.
Wilkinson kicked his fourth penalty and then sent a drop goal off the upright and through the sticks to put Toulon back in front, although that lead lasted less than a minute before Kockot landed a penalty.
Two more scores from the trusty boot of the South African ensured Castres held on for victory and moved up to second, level on points with Perpignan and Montpellier.
Those two met in Friday night's late game with Perpignan earning a bonus point in a 28-16 victory.
South African scrum-half Dewaldt Duvenage, Australian No.8 Justin Puril and Algerian-born wing Sofiane Guitoune all crossed for the Catalans in the first half before France lock Sebastien Vahaamahina added the fourth try after the break.
Montpellier, who came into the match as the league's form team after a 25-0 destruction of four-time European champions Toulouse the previous weekend, scored a consolation try through Fiji wing Timoci Nagusa, but that wasn't enough to deny Perpignan the attacking bonus.