Castres upset the odds to become champions of France for a fifth time as they defeated Montpellier 29-13 in the Top 14 final at the Stade de France.
It was billed as the final between contrasting clubs, with contrasting styles and contrasting journeys and that was exactly how it played out – but just not how Montpellier had anticipated.
Montpellier had topped the standings at the end of the regular season, with French internationals and NatWest 6 Nations stars Benjamin Fall and Kelian Galletier among their ranks.
Castres, on the other hand, scraped into the play-offs after finishing sixth before showing their mettle to see off Dan Carter’s Racing 92 in a memorable semi-final.
Yet tries from Julien Dumora and Steve Mafi, plus 19 points from fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta, ensured Montpellier’s wait to lift the Bouclier de Brennus goes on.
A clever break from Aaron Cruden provided an early chance for Ruan Pienaar to give Montpellier the lead from the tee, but the South African tugged his kick wide of the posts.
The miss set the theme for the rest of the night. Castres went on to open the scoring through the boot of Urdapilleta before Pienaar responded with his own penalty on 12 minutes.
But Montpellier’s indiscipline would cost them dearly in the first quarter and Urdapilleta added a further two penalties to make it 9-3 as Castres capitalised.
Vern Cotter’s side responded with a huge scrum to earn another shot at goal, but Frans Steyn’s effort failed to find the target and another Montpellier error then allowed Urdapilleta to extend Castres’ advantage to nine points.
Pienaar was given an opportunity to make amends for his earlier miss in the 34th minute, which he duly grabbed with both hands to reduce the deficit to 12-6.
However, Castres finally made their first-half dominance count just before the break.
A brilliant kick over the retreating Nemani Nadolo put pressure on Montpellier and they soon buckled, with their lineout throw going dead to give Castres attacking ball.
As they had done throughout the first half, they made the most of the mistake and Dumora pounced for the opening try, before Urdapilleta maintained his perfect record from the tee.
With Montpellier 19-6 behind, they needed to come out firing at the start the second half and they delivered in some style on 55 minutes after a sustained period of pressure.
Castres threw their bodies on the line and committed multiple infringements as they saw off wave after wave of attack, but they were eventually punished when Loic Jacquet was sin-binned.
Montpellier turned down the opportunity for an easy three points and it paid off when they were awarded a penalty try after their forward power proved too much for Castres.
Yet just as the momentum appeared to be swinging back in Montpellier’s direction, Castres delivered another telling blow through the ever-reliable boot of Urdapilleta.
Pienaar was given a chance to cancel the penalty out moments later, but just as he had done in the first half, his attempt at goal was pulled well wide of the uprights.
Castres then put the result beyond doubt in the final ten minutes. They barrelled forward once again and after going close on several occasions, Mafi crashed over the whitewash.
Urdapilleta put the icing on the cake by converting the extras and the underdogs held on for the final few minutes to complete an unlikely victory against a shell-shocked Montpellier.