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Exeter Chiefs begin their Heineken Champions Cup away at Castres Olympique on Saturday, in what is set to be a testing clash as they look to replicate their 2020 success.
Exeter lifted the trophy that year after a stunning campaign, but the previous two seasons have ended in defeat, first in the quarter-finals and then in the Round of 16.
Castres, who beat Exeter at home in the 2018/19 Heineken Champions Cup pool stage, were unfortunate not to progress to the knockout stage last season, with a last-gasp defeat to Harlequins seeing them drop into the EPCR Challenge Cup, which proved a fruitless endeavour.
Exeter are seventh in the Gallagher Premiership nine games into this season, picking up four wins, while Castres are 11th in the TOP 14, winning six from 12.
The Pool A contest at Stade Pierre Fabre kicks off at 20:00 (UK & Irish time) and is available to watch on beIN SPORTS, BT Sport, SuperSport and FloRugby.
First question to everyone at season launch…
Who’s lifting the #HeinekenChampionsCup this season – and they couldn’t say themselves (as much as they tried) 👀
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) November 30, 2022
Mathieu Babillot (Castres Olympique flanker): “I have great respect for this competition, a lot of admiration for all the great teams that have won this trophy. All the greatest players have played in this competition. It’s a privilege to play in the [Heineken]Champions Cup.”
Ben Moon (Exeter Chiefs prop): “The past couple of years I think we’ve perhaps put too much pressure on ourselves for the result, rather than the performance. If we get the performance right, the result will look after itself. It’s a challenge that everyone looks for at Chiefs, and when we go over to France they’re always good encounters.”
- Castres Olympique fly-half Ben Botica, missed more kicks at goal in a single Heineken Champions Cup match last season than any other player, failing to strike four through the uprights.
- Castres were the only club in the Heineken Champions Cup last season not to be penalised with a card of any colour. However, they conceded a competition-high average of 13.75 penalties per match.
- The last time that Castres Olympique met the Exeter Chiefs, they lost away from home. However, they defeated their opposition in their first meeting, winning 29-25 in October 2018.
- Stuart Hogg is the only player who will play in this season’s Heineken Champions Cup to have scored a drop goal in the tournament last term.
- The Chiefs made the highest percentage of low tackles in the tournament in the 2021/22 season, aiming below the waist with 52% of their defensive actions.
- In last season’s competition, Exeter had more try-scoring possessions which started with scrums than any other team (six).
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Exeter Chiefs kicked off their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a commendable 24-12 win over Castres Olympique at Stade Pierre Fabre on Saturday night.
Sam Simmonds, Dave Ewers, Sam Maunder and Olly Woodburn were the 2020 champions’ try-scorers as they secured a bonus-point victory at a notoriously tough venue.
Castres’ points came solely from the boot of Julien Dumora, with the TOP 14 side struggling to offer any sustained threat despite their competitiveness at the breakdown.
In a turgid first half, Exeter drew first blood as No.8 Simmonds, EPCR European Player of the Year in 2020, produced a typically impressive turn of pace to dart over in corner.
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) December 10, 2022
Full-back Dumora put points on the board for Castres with a penalty on 23 minutes, but Exeter crossed shortly after as flanker Ewers powered over from close range.
But ill-discipline cost Exeter over the remainder of the half, with Dumora continuing to chip away at the visitors’ lead, the fourth of his penalties drawing Castres level on the stroke of half-time.
Exeter made a dream start to the second half as their pressure saw Castres wing Geoffrey Palis yellow-carded for a deliberate knock-on before scrum-half Maunder darted over from close range.
However, the visitors were unable to take further advantage of their extra man, spending the majority of Palis’ sin-bin period under their own posts amid a series of Castres scrums.
Exeter survived that period of pressure, and despite Castres being back up to their full complement, the visitors produced their best rugby of the game as full-back Stuart Hogg ran from deep and fed Olly Woodburn for the bonus-point try with an hour played.
And Exeter’s defence held firm over the remainder of the contest, restricting Castres to few try-scoring chances, with a Joe Simmonds penalty on 68 minutes wrapping up an impressive win.
Exeter are at home to free-scoring Vodacom Bulls in Round 2 next Saturday, with Castres visiting Edinburgh Rugby on the same day.