Fixture: London Irish v Castres Olympique

Competition: EPCR Challenge Cup, Round of 16

Date: Friday 15th April 2022

Kick-off: 5.30pm

Stadium: Brentford Community Stadium 

Capacity: 17,250

Castres Olympique stand between London Irish and a second successive Challenge Cup quarter-final berth this Friday when Pierre-Henry Broncan’s team visit the Brentford Community Stadium.

A win for Declan Kidney’s Exiles would spell their third ever back-to-back progression to the quarter-final phases of European competition with the last time coming in 2008/09 and will face stern opposition in the form of Castres. 

The Occitanian side currently occupy fourth in the Top 14 rungs, level on points with 2021 Heineken Champions Cup finalists and third-placed team, La Rochelle. 

A recent 19-13 home victory over reigning domestic and continental champions and local rivals Toulouse in Round 22 of the Top 14 raised eyebrows following the 41-0 reverse suffered by Castres back in October.

The five-time French champions replenished their stock at the Stade Pierre-Fabre over the summer by securing the signature of former Harlequins fly-half Ben Botica. 

The Clubs, both formed in 1898, have only met once in European competition before when Castres progressed to the final with a 40-30 win over Irish in the 1999/00 edition of the competition. 

The boss- Pierre-Henry Broncan:

Pierre-Henry Broncan had his rugby beginnings as a player with Lombez Samatan, continuing his playing days among a plethora of Clubs concentrated in south-western France. 

He went on to succeed his father Henry at FC Auch Gers, another of the Clubs Broncan laced up for, having got his start on the touchlines with Blagnac SCR and earning promotion to the Pro D2 with Rugby Colomiers. 

The 47-year-old’s first post in the Top 14 was with Union Bordeaux Bègles, heading their recruitment department, replicating the same position a year later after a move to Stade Toulousain before switching to Defence Coach.

Broncan revived a familiar position of Head of Recruitment across the Channel in a brief two-year stint with Bath Rugby, then working his way from the recruitment and coaching departments to now oversee the Castres Olympique rugby project. 

One to Watch- Benjamín Urdapilleta:

Urdapilleta has amassed the eighth-most points scored in this season’s Top 14 competition with 145 points on 85% kicking efficiency, including two tries in wins against Irish’s Pool C opponents Section Paloise, and also current league leaders Montpellier.

The Argentine sustained a dislocation of the thumb in Round 21 of the Top 14 against CA Brive, with Ben Botica deputising in his place in a win over Toulouse but could be in line for a return this Friday. 

The veteran out-half has recently extended his stay with Castres after joining in 2015, having aided in Oyonnax’s 2012/13 Pro D2 promotion bid and then on to the Top 14 play-offs before the move south.

As well as earning 16 caps for his country, including four in the 2019 Rugby World Cup, Urdapilleta guided Castres to their fifth French championship after being awarded the title of Man of the Match in both the 2017/18 semi-final and final. 

Pre-match patter: 

Castres Olympique Head Coach Pierre-Henry Broncan spoke of his satisfaction in winning the derby match over Toulouse on home turf in the Top 14. 

"A derby is never pretty, but a derby has to be won," Broncan stated.

"Our fans were waiting for this today: our city, our club and our region were waiting to beat the neighbouring team."

Castres' elimination from the Heineken Champions Cup has not deterred Broncan or his team, as he faces the run-in on the domestic and European front with a complete complement of players. 

"It'll be great for us as a team to approach the final push with a full squad."

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