2024 Stade Toulousain vs Castres Olympique

Top 14 Round 17 Clash Of The Week: Dupont-Less Toulouse Tackles Castres

Top 14 Round 17 Clash Of The Week: Dupont-Less Toulouse Tackles Castres

French Top 14 returns for Round 17 of the 2023-2024 season with the game of the week being Stade Toulousain vs. Castres at the Stade Ernest Wallon.

Feb 29, 2024
Top 14 Round 17 Clash Of The Week: Dupont-Less Toulouse Tackles Castres

It’s not often that the top six sides in a league face off against one another across a single matchday weekend, and yet that’s exactly what’s happening in the Top 14 in Round 17. 

Table topper Stade Francis hosts fifth-place Pau, second-place Toulouse takes on Castres - which sits directly beneath them, while Bordeaux Begles faces Racing 92 in a matchup of fourth against sixth. 

All three fixtures are blockbusters in their own right, but one holds more jeopardy than the rest, and that’s the showdown taking place at the Stade Ernest-Wallon. 

Everyone expects Toulouse to qualify for the knockouts, as it looks to retain its title, and so far, things are falling in the team's favor. 

The Red and Blacks are sitting pretty on 50 points, the same total as leader Stade Francis, and comfortably have the best points differential in the league. 

When their full first-team squad is available, there are very few sides that can go toe-to-toe with the French giants, though right now, with the Six Nations raging on, they’re vulnerable. 

At least they should be. They’re missing more than a full XV of players through either injury or international commitments, and yet they’re still unbeaten in 2024, winning all of their fixtures in both the Top 14 and the Investec Champions Cup. 

Most teams would falter when faced with such limitations, but the depth on offer at Toulouse means there’s an equally capable player waiting to step in from the wings. 

And in their last league match, that’s exactly when it happened, as Arthur Retière and Mathis Castro Ferreira both scored a brace to help Toulouse squeak past Clermont 37-33. 

Their involvement was valuable, but the crucial interventions came from Juan Cruz Mallía. 

The Argentinian fullback stepped in at No. 10 and performed well off the tee, converting three, while also slotting another two penalties. 

However, his most important points came late in the game when he crossed over to score the match-winning try in the 70th minute. 

No Romain Ntamack, no Thomas Ramos, no problem. 

Challenging Mallía won’t be an easy feat, but Castres may just have the perfect combination to take the game to the reigning champions. 

First, they have the experienced Pierre Popelin, who is a fly-half by trade but recently has moved to fullback to make space for the youthful talent Louis Le Brun at 10. 

In the three matches they’ve played alongside one another in the backline, Castres is unbeaten and has looked effortlessly smooth in attack. 

In addition to this, both Le Brun and Popelin are accurate off the tee, which gives Castres plenty to lean on to score points. 

Add to the mix All Blacks alumni Jack Goodhue and French youngster Nathanaël Hulleu - the next big thing on the wing who’s already scored six tries this season - and Castres has a backline filled with flair that leans heavily into the offloading game. 

Toulouse will face a mighty challenge when trying to stop the flow of the Castres attack, as it thrives on impromptu invention. 

They’re also still able to field close to their first-choice side, as they haven’t lost many key players to the Six Nations. 

That means they’re ready to mount a serious test with genuine hopes of doing the double over Toulouse. 

Castles won the reverse fixture 31-23 in mid-November, though it’s worth noting Toulouse started the season in a slumber and has grown since then. 

But Castres is in red-hot form and ready to take down a giant. 

A bonus-point win could move Castres to within a point of its adversaries, putting the group in with a genuine shot of reaching the top of the table in weeks to come. 

With the way in which this Castres backline is playing right now, don’t be surprised if we see an upset at the Stade Ernest-Wallon.

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