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French Rugby Column January 4 || By: Howard Johnson

April 24, 2020 2 min read

Well it was very much The Big One as far as my local region of The
Tarn was concerned as the area’s two biggest clubs Castres and Albi
did battle at the former’s Stade Pierre-Antoine ground last Sunday.
The local paper, La Depeche, was doing its level best to talk the game
up as I found when I picked up a copy at my local bar at lunchtime. ‘A
derby to make the mouth water’ it trumpeted all across the front page
of the sports section. This, I feel, may have been the ultimate in
journalistic licence, though. Because in truth the facts suggested that
this was a derby more likely to make the eyes water, particularly if you
happened to be an Albi fan.

Castres have taken the Top 14 by storm this season and under caches Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers have proved themselves skilful, canny and resilient. Albi, meanwhile, have struggled to impose themselves all season and despite two recent
home wins against Perpignan and Biarritz still remain rooted to the
foot of the table and look odds-on certainties for the drop. A heavy
defeat in a midweek encounter with Toulon did little for the confidence
of the ‘Albigeois’ and despite the paper desperately trying to claim
otherwise (why let the truth get in the way of a good story?) this
looked like an absolute mismatch.

As early as the fourth minute, with barely enough time on the clock for
us to have sunk the first ‘demi’ of the day ‘Chez Piou’, and our worst
fears were being realised as Castres scored a scintillating 80 metre try.
It looked like being a very, very long afternoon.

So it proved in the end, as Castres ran out hugely comfortable 44-10
winners. Albi’s legendary ‘combativity’ was again in evidence with any
number of cheap shots being delivered with the subtlety of a
sledgehammer and right under the noses of the officials. Two yellow
cards and one red for substitute scrum half Sebastien Pages after one
almighty dust-up tells its own story. Indiscipline is still rife in the Top
14 in a day and age when such vulgar displays of macho behaviour
have all but disappeared from the English game. And while it would be
hard to deny that there is still a certain frisson to be had from two
meatheads going at it hammer and tongues in the name of public
entertainment, such behaviour on the rugby field does now seem
utterly antiquated.

In the end, then, this was a derby that had little in terms of true
‘upsetting the apple cart’ drama and leaves Castres at the top of the
pile and Albi at the bottom with a massive 37 point gap between the
two outfits, which sums up just about perfectly why the leader writer
in ‘La Depeche’ must never be trusted from now on. Mind you, though,
surely you know that you can never trust what a journalist writes
– except in my column each week, of course.