French champions Castres cling on to open season with victory

Paris (AFP) –


Reigning champions Castres opened the new French season on Sunday as they had ended the last by beating Montpellier, although this time the finish was much tenser.

Castres entered last year's playoffs as the lowest seed but beat Montpellier, who had topped the regular season table, by 16 points in the final. This time they clung on with 14 men to win 25-20 away.

On Sunday, Montpellier, unbeaten at home last season, had a chance for rapid revenge and their No.8 Martin Devergie scored the opening try after 18 minutes.

The champions were level by the break with a try by French international Scott Spedding, a summer recruit from Clermont. They took control early in the second half with tries by lock Rodrigo Capo Ortega and a second by full-back Spedding, to lead by 12.

Montpellier hit back when lock Paul Willemse burrowed over with 17 minutes left.

The hosts pressed furiously but even with Castres down to 14 for the last seven minutes, after Camille Gerondeau was shown a yellow card for going high on Montpellier fly half Aaron Cruden, could not find the breakthrough.

Montpellier made a string of handling errors and also crossed the line twice only for video reviews to rule out possible tries.