Castres v Edinburgh: Mike Blair’s men progress to Champions Cup knock-out phase

First time in 28-years of European competition that both of Scotland's pro teams have won away on French soil in the same weekend

Ben Vellacott scored Edinburgh's bonus-point try. Image: © Craig Watson -
Ben Vellacott scored Edinburgh's bonus-point try. Image: © Craig Watson -

Castres 21

Edinburgh 34

A CLINICAL and disciplined second-half performance from Edinburgh produced a bonus-point win in France and booked their place in the last 16 of the Champions Cup. It has been a tough few months for Mike Blair’s side, and this was a team missing a handful of key players, but they played with impressive conviction and self-belief as they battled back from a 21-14 half-time deficit to score 20 unanswered points and ruthlessly close-out the match after the break.

Edinburgh have one pool match remaining in the competition, at home to Saracens next Sunday evening. They will feel they have a point to prove after coming up agonisingly short against the English side in Barnet at the start of the campaign, and they will recognise that the higher they finish in Pool A the more favourable their draw is likely to be in the knock-out stage. But a lot of pressure has been lifted, which gives head coach Blair some room to manoeuvre as he tries to manage his injury-ravaged squad back towards something closer to full-strength.

“To get through with a round to spare is excellent, especially when you consider we were up against two teams that were in the final of their domestic competitions last year,” said Blair. “But a win next weekend will give us a home round of 16 draw which will be a really good achievement as there are so many teams in there with quality. So, we want to stretch ourselves, and we want to win at home.”.

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“The strategy was to keep the ball in play in order to fatigue Castres, and while not everything went to plan, they did look very tired towards the end,” he added. “We also kept our starters on for a fair bit of the game because we felt they were accustomed to the wet and windy conditions when the stiff breeze was against us, and I think that paid off for us.”

Blair had some specific words of praise for winger Blair Kinghorn, who shrugged off recent disappointments around the failed  or at least stalled  attempt to convert him into an international stand-off to kick six from six off the tee in this match.

“I’m really chuffed for him because he had a number of real pressure kicks, and he nailed them all,” said the coach. “You tend to watch the kickers and when they turn away relatively quickly you know they have got them and Blair turned away pretty quickly on all of them. He looks at his game with a very critical eye and this kicking will be very good for his confidence.”

A slick attack featuring a neat pop from Cammy Hutchison to Charlie Savala on the wrap-around created an early opportunity on the right for Edinburgh, but the final pass to Jack Blain dropped at the winger’s toes. However, the visitors didn’t not have to wait long for the opening score, with a scrum penalty being kicked to the corner and hooker Dave Cherry getting the ball down after bursting off the back of a powerful maul.

Castres were not ready to roll over and a galloping run from second-row Theo Hannoyer split Edinburgh wide open, initiating a sweeping attack which led to a yellow-card for Blair Kinghorn for diving in from an offside position in a desperate attempt to slow home momentum. From the tap, the hosts headed right towards Kinghorn’s wing, with Benjamin Urdapilleta‘s grubber kick being gobbled up by Josaia Raisuqe for the French team’s opening try.

The hosts kept turning the screw during this 10 minute period with an extra man, and Edinburgh passed up an opportunity to relieve some pressure when their line-out malfunctioned five yards from their own line. This led directly to the home team’s second try with a powerful scrum providing the platform for inside-centre Adrien Seguret to step inside Charlie Shiel and scuttle over.

Once back to full strength, Edinburgh regained their foothold, and after two long passages of play which wore down their heavyweight opponents, Viliame Mata rumbled over to set up a Kinghorn conversion which tied the contest with half an hour played.

Castres spent the final five minutes of the first half on the front foot. Raisuqe should really have got his second but he failed to hold onto Urdapilleta’s clever cross-kick, then a few minutes later a Wilfrid Hounkpatin charge took play back deep into Edinburgh’s 22, and after Dave Cherry was sent to the bin for killing the ball, tight-head prop Hounkpatin took the tap and powered over, with Urdapilleta’s conversion making it 21-14 to the hosts at the break.


A wonderful piece of ingenuity from centre Hutchison pulled Edinburgh back level five minutes into the second half, when he released the ball in the tackle but jumped straight back to his feet to pick-up and go again, motoring past Castres’ dozy defence and under the posts to set up an easy conversion for Kinghorn.

It took a fine cover tackle from Henry Immelman to dislodge possession from Raisuqe’s grasp after he had scooped up a loose ball and made a bee-line for the try-line, with Cherry getting back to rescue possession. Then came Edinburgh’s chance of an opportunist try when Kinghorn intercepted on halfway but couldn’t quite keep his feet after a tap-tackle from Raisuqe, and his offload from the deck floated marginally forward.

Edinburgh finally snatched the lead just after the hour mark when Mata made a big dent with a No 8 pick-up, and when he was eventually brought down, replacement scrums-half Ben Vellacott sniped, repeating Hutchison’s earlier trick by releasing in the tackle and bouncing straight back to his feet to scuttle under the posts.

Kinghorn converted again, and then added six more points through a collapsed maul penalty and a hands in the ruck penalty to open up 13-points of breathing space between his side and the now totally demoralised hosts.



Teams –

Castres: T Larregain; M Laveau (K Kornath 4), V Botitu (A Cocagi 54), A Seguret, G Palis; B Urdapilleta, G Doubrere (S Arata Perrone 60-62); Q Walcker (M Tierney 45), G Barlot (P Colonna, 59), W Hounkpatin (A Azar 39), L Nakarawa (R Pieterse 49, T Staniforth 70), T Hannoyer, B Cope, J Raisuqe, T Ben-Nicholas.

Edinburgh: H Immelman; J Blain, M Bennett, C Hutchison (C Scott 75), B Kinghorn; C Savala, C Shiel (B Vellacott 50); P Schoeman (N Auterac 73), D Cherry (T Cruse 64), W Nel (L Atalifo 73), M Sykes (T Cruse 44-47, J Hodgson 58), G Gilchrist, S Skinner, J Ritchie, V Mata (N Haining 75).



Scorers –

Castres: Tries: Raisuqe, Seguret, Hounkpatin; Con: Urdapilleta 3.

Edinburgh: Tries: Cherry, Mata, Hutchison, Vellacott; Con: Kinghorn 4; Pen: Kinghorn 2.

Scoring sequence  (Castres first): 0-5; 0-7; 5-7; 7-7; 12-7; 14-7; 14-12; 14-14; 19-14; 21-14 (h-t) 21-19; 21-21; 21-26; 21-28; 21-31; 21-34.


Yellow cards –

Edinburgh: Kinghorn (13mins), Cherry (37mins)

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About David Barnes 4026 Articles
David has worked as a freelance rugby journalist since 2004 covering every level of the game in Scotland for publications including The Herald/Sunday Herald, The Sunday Times, The Telegraph, The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday/Evening News, The Daily Record, The Daily Mail/Mail on Sunday and The Sun.


  1. Good to see BK hitting the mark with his place kicking. Was it just me though or was his tackle selection (and execution) really suspect? Seemed like he kept trying to go in high and upright against big men moving at speed and was repeatedly bumped off. I was continually holding my breath waiting for a head collision and a red card.
    But as others have said, Mata was great and had a really destructive game ball in hand, Vellacott brought speed, aggression and energy when he came on, and Hutchison was a handful every time he got the ball. All good stuff to work on for the Saracens match.

    • Re BK it looked to me like he was protecting an injury – shoulder ? but I strongly suspect it’s a back issue . He went off with back injury recently. As we are so short of wingers MB probably had little choice but attempt to hide him on wing. He also made a clumsy attempt to pick ball up on run – not easy when you don’t have back issue. Did not affect kicking tho good progress on this account. Just watched the Glasgow game is it just me but as a whole the squad look fitter and more up for it . Of particular interest is the younger guys that it really stands out in backs and forwards they look stronger quicker flexible and more intense .

      • I think you are probably right .. 14 players unavailable with 23 in the squad, takes us to 37 … who does that leave …..?

  2. Great result but as others have said kicking from hand very poor and the defence will need to be much better against Saracens. It looked porous. Any news on how many of our injured backs will be able to return on Sunday?

  3. Two convincing European wins for the Scottish clubs is always great news on the eve of the Six Nations. Edinburgh must now finish the job by nailing Saracens to the carpet, for the fat cats were somewhat let off the hook by lapses of concentration in the away game. It’s time to put that right.

  4. Hutchison does a great job for Edinburgh and gets us going forward when it looks nigh on impossible. I’d start Vellacott but he does make a difference as an impact player. Kinghorn nailed his kicks but had a torrid time against the big back rower who went on the wing. All in all a great win away from home and that’s 2 on the bounce. Winning, confidence and momentum make such a difference in rugby.

  5. 5pts away to a full strength Castres is a great result.
    Edinburgh were not so good first half but dominated the 2nd.

    For once Kinghorn kicked well from the tee -6/6. But frankly otherwise he looked back to the old Kinghorn who played on the wing – looses concentration, and looked disinterested and falling off tackles. Looks like he’s taken the huff at having to play wing and/or because edin have signed Healey and he thinks he’ll need to actually work to get his place at 10 next season

    • I don’t think anyone can possibly argue that Kinghorn played well. Yes, he kicked all his goals but none were remotely difficult for a pro player (I see kids kicking those goals almost every weekend).

      I am sure his back 3 instincts are a bit rusty through no fault of his own, so he gets some latitude there, but there is no excuse for his tackling. He is a huge man and he is simply brushed aside time and time again.

      It certainly doesn’t look to me like he is willing to put his body on the line for the cause. To be honest, I don’t really blame him given how much he has been mucked around.

      Whoever told him he could be a top class 10 will be ultimately responsible for ruining his once promising career. I remember watching his hat-trick against Italy and thinking what a player that lad could be. It is really very sad to see what is happening to him and I sincerely hope it is not too late to turn things around.

      My hunch is he really needs to get out of Scotland and find a coaching team that is not compromised by other factors (mostly their hubris) and can develop him into the player he undoubtedly can be.

      I know that this opinion will not be popular with some, but I call it as I see it and all I see in BK now is a player who is lost, unmotivated and now regressing very quickly. Anyone who truly cares about HIM as a player, rather than a cog in either the Edinburgh or Scotland machine, must surely see this and agree that a something needs to be done.

      • A lot to agree with there Garry. He needs out of the Edinburgh comfort zone, to be challenged to get his position on merit – whatever that position is.
        As to his back 3 instincts – rusty maybe but IMHO all too familiar. He switched off. Watch the Castres 10 crosskick from the pen in or near Edin 22. A crosskick, possibly kicking possession away from a pen, no adv to fall back on, when the opposition have a 6’5″ winger. Except that winger wasn’t watching and was out of position walking at snails pace instead of sprinting into position. That’s an old fault. Poor positioning and/or lack of concentration

      • s+9, yeah his defence at that crosskick was not a good look and it was only one of Castres many unforced errors that prevented a try as a result.

  6. Sounds like a good game, but with Virgin not including BT Sport 5 ! I haven’t seen anything but brief highlights from YouTube … anyone know where I can find the full game?

    • Search Try-lights rugby on youtube, posts full matches about 5-10 minutes after the game finishes, he includes Japan league, all european games, URC/prem etc.

      He posted the Glasgow game also

    • I also thought this to be the case until my son who was with me told me to press the red button. I did this and this brought up the Edinburgh game. Too late for you today but may be useful next time if Edinburgh are not on the listed BT channels on Virgin.

    • Too late now, but we had the same problem. Pressed the red button when on BT Sports 1 and up popped the game on BT Sport Extra (5). One to try next time.

    • i missed the game as was out, but it was available on the red button on virgin. annoying that they didn’t put the other guff on btsport2 on the red button instead and i could have watched on replay!

  7. Posted both my ponderings from this weekend.
    I reckon Bennett “knew” back 3 had no pace when he decided to kick.

  8. Loose and error strewn 1st half where Edinburgh allowed Castres to stay in the game. 7 or 8 unforced errors neutralised any attacking intent Edinburgh had.
    Forwards carried hard and ultimately that may have been the reason for more space in the 2nd half.
    Vellacott made such a difference. Alas it looks like Shiel won’t make the grade.
    Mata played his best game for months Schoeman was superb, Ritchie was an absolute pest at the breakdown.
    BK kicked 6/6 but I thought his play in the loose was poor.
    Hutchison played like a young Alex Dunbar throughout and scored a powerful try.
    Ultimately a 5 pointer in France a tremendous outcome

  9. Just watched the extended highlights- R.Gray seemed phenomenal again, it’s quite nice to sit and watch a scottish team get the basics right, when you do that everything else is much easier. Smith and McKay tries lovely back play. Matthews often seems to be the best hooker in Scotland.
    Nice to see Sam Johnston back he’s almost Maitland esque in the quiet efficient way he goes about his game.
    5 points in France is a splendid outcome


  10. I thought at half time we were going to blow this game after a good start by executing some dreadful kicking – I think 3 out on the full and a restart kicked dead by Savala which kept giving the ball back to Castres. So well done to the team for a vastly better performance In the 2nd half where we managed the game well. Its so important to get the basics right and it makes such a difference as to where the game is played ie their 22 rather than ours when your not giving the ball away. Castres were last years runner up in the Top 14 so no mugs. Some good performances in the forwards from Mata who has really improved after looking sluggish before Xmas, Ritchie. Skinner and Cherry also good. In the backs Hutchison played well and yes Blair Kinghorn had 100% record off the tee as well as his yellow card. Im a big fan of Charlie Shiel but does need to work on his kicks. Look forward to the Saracens game next week but they do have that ruthless air about them so we cant afford some of the errors of today and need to be faultless and have Boffelli back.

    • Fine if Boffelli is back next week-but on the wing please as Immelmann was tremendous in every department-tackles,high balls and huge linekicking. Oh and Kinghorn kicked 6 from 6 so not sure if we need his goalkicking either!

      • Steady, one 10o% day, while very welcome does not make BK Hugo Porta. Looked to have adjusted his technique a bit and was striking it sweetly – hitting through the ball rather than those inconsistent instep curlers.
        A good result against a big team that looked a handful in the first half. Much better second half for us. Let’s hope we can keep it going for next week.

  11. A much needed 5 pointer but I thought Castres were a poor side; very wasteful with the ball and far too casual in defence in the second half and highly questionable fitness levels in their pack.

    Top marks for Hutchison and Vellacott on their tries – great awareness from both, although you would have to think better organised teams wouldn’t have given them those opportunities.

    Good showing from Skinner again I thought. Injuries permitting, surely it will be he and R Gray in the Scotland second row this 6Ns?

    The real improvement was the low error count in the second half. It won’t be enough to beat the best teams but it will hopefully spare us more games like last weekend’s.


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