“Farmers against city dwellers”… How the CO forged its identity in adversity

A little game to start. Find the intruder among these four proposals: Castres, Toulouse, Montpelier and Bordeaux… If we were talking about demography, the sub-prefecture of Tarn would quickly be unmasked with its 42,000 inhabitants in the middle of three regional cities. But rather we will talk about rugby and the casting of the semifinals of the organized Top 14 in Nice. In this plan, the CO, number 1 in the regular phase, can look his rivals in the eye, starting with the cumbersome neighbor Toulousewhich he faces this Friday night on the Côte d’Azur.

However, the outsider label suits him perfectly, although Ugo Mola wanted to take it off at the end of the barrage won by the current French champion against La Rochelle (33-28) last Saturday. “Castres is first in the championship, it will be difficult to play small,” warned the Toulouse coach, who knows Jean Jaurès’ hometown well from having played and trained there. He is the first in terms of character and mood. These players honestly deserve more respect, we don’t talk enough about them. »

All the better, we would tend to respond 80 km east of Capitol Square. “We weren’t outstanding compared to other clubs, but it was good for us,” recalls Christophe Samson, second row in the OC from 2012 to 2020, with two Brennus Shields passing through, in 2013 and 2018. Certainly, we have a great sponsor behind us. U.S [le groupe pharmaceutique et cosmétique Pierre Fabre], but we are landlocked in the depths of the Tarn with less than 45,000 inhabitants. Mediatically, he does not dream. This geographical location and this local side make the specificity of the club. »

The art of recruiting well

As well as the self-mockery, if we follow the former international. Half of the people don’t know where the city is, perhaps less so now with the club’s results. I admit that I was the first, before living there, it was difficult for me to locate it even though I had already played there. »

Looking at the squad, we find a lot of very good players, French (Dumora, Palis, Vanverberghe, Hounkpatin, Barlot…) or not (Botitu, Nakosi, Urdapilleta…) but no stars. The club and its coach with an almost infallible gift, Pierre-Henry Broncan, know how to unearth unknown pearls in the lower floors or outside the borders (Canadian Tyler Ardron, Australians Tom Staniforth and Nick Champion de Crespigny). And in a heartbeat, these foreigners find themselves assimilated to the CO, Tarn accent as a plus, like the Uruguayan Rodrigo Capo Ortega and the South African Rory Kockott before.

Castres Olympique scrum-half Rory Kockott announced the end of his career at the end of the 2021-2022 season.
Castres Olympique scrum-half Rory Kockott announced the end of his career at the end of the 2021-2022 season. -Daniel Vaquero/SIPA

“The club has vindictive players, a little less publicized than others but with quality,” continues Sansón. It is our collective that has always been our strength. And then, when you have a family life, Castres is quite calm, far from the inconveniences of big cities such as traffic jams or pollution. When you’re young, it can be a little more difficult. »

First in the ordinary phase with the 10th budget

Tenth budget of the Top 14 with 22.8 million euros, far from the 39.1 million of the Stade Français or the 37.3 million of the Stade Toulousain, the CO carries the old charm of rugby in medium-sized cities, which has declined in elsewhere since the rise of professionalism, in AgenBéziers, Bourgoin or Dax.

“We are completely landlocked,” Broncan insisted this Thursday at a press conference. There is not a kilometer of highway that reaches Castres. On the other hand, it is our strength because being isolated allows us to be among ourselves. Our players work as hard as everyone else during the week in training, but they also rub shoulders outside. We have a great fervor in a city that is very rugby. Create a symbiosis between the public, the club, our professional players and the youngest. »

This season, Toulouse and Castres have each won their home game: 41-0 at Ernest-Wallon and 19-13 at Pierre-Fabre.
This season, Toulouse and Castres have each won their home game: 41-0 at Ernest-Wallon and 19-13 at Pierre-Fabre. – Valentin Chapuis / AFP

And the coach to underline, again and again, the importance of the Pierre Fabre group, founded by the Castres pharmacist of the same name in 1951, which today employs almost 10,000 people around the world, reporting for 2021 global revenues of €2.5 billion. Close to the boss, viscerally attached to his roots, Pierre-Yves Revol has held the reins of the CO since 1989, with a parenthesis between 2008 and 2014, during take over the NRL.

Three coats of arms and five finishes under the Pierre-Fabre era

Since then, if the CO has rarely shone on the European scene, the post-war French champion titles (1949 and 1950) have made three small ones (1993, 2013 and 2018) in addition to two lost finals (1995 and 2014). ). But before recovering its local identity that gives fans the creeps of the Pierre-Antoine stadium, renamed Pierre-Fabre in 2017 four years after the death of the patriarch, the CO sought to be as big as the Toulouse calf, at the dawn of professionalism.

“In the mid-1990s, when the club was on the road, I heard about the blue and white Ferrari, remembers Karim Benaouda, editorial director. of the weekly The diary from hereand author in 2006 of the book 100 years of Castres Olympique Posted by Private. No one would say that now. “It was the time when Castres was bringing out the bundles to poach Thomas Castaignède, the star of Stade Toulousain and the French XV, or to attract former All Black Franck Bunce, a big name who no longer had a big name. the engine when landing on the banks of the Agout.

“When he returned to bet on a more hard-working team, the club recovered its identity and the successes returned,” testifies the journalist. In the 2010s, the duo of Laurent, Labit and Travers, then the charismatic Christophe Urios replaced the club in the elite of French rugby, with an image of tough, “painful” guys, and a certain obsidional fever not without foundation.

“Brive, for example, is the club for the whole of Corrèze while Castres is just the one for the south of the Tarn, it replaces Karim Benaouda. From Lavaur or Gaillac, even if we are in the same department, people are in favor of Stade Toulousain. »

So we always come back to the Rouge et Noir, the big city boys who like to tell everything with such presumptuous slogans as “Jeux de mains, jeu de Toulouse”. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, they’ve also attracted some of the best Castres over the years: Richie Grey, Piula Faasalele, Iosefa Tekori and the current Captains of the Blues. antony dupont and Anthony Jelonch. “When I played these derbies, my teammates were talking about peasants versus city dwellers,” laughs Christophe Samson, now back in his native Auvergne to work in real estate after working just after his retirement from the sport at… Pierre Fabre.

Better neighbor relations

On the pitch, relations have calmed down since the departure two years ago of Urios, a close enemy of Mola, and the arrival of Broncan, who worked in the Toulouse squad from 2015 to 2018. But for a Castres fan, a match against Toulouse It will never be one match against another. Especially if it is a Top 14 semi-final after which the club, which failed to qualify last year, has been chasing since the 2018 title.

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