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RugbyU: Castres stun Toulon to win French Top 14 title

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Castres captain Remi Tales emulated opposite number Jonny Wilkinson by knocking over two late drop goals to guide Castres to a stunning 19-14 upset of European champions Toulon in the French Top 14 final at the Stade de France on Saturday.

Tales' scores stopped a Toulon fightback in its tracks after South African scrum-half Rory Kockott's stroke of inspiration had put the underdogs in front at half-time.

Toulon were plagued by uncharacteristic handling errors as they failed to complete a European and domestic double, two weeks after upsetting Clermont in the European Cup final in Dublin.

For Castres it was a fourth French title and first since 1993, the perfect send-off for Racing Metro-bound coaching pair Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers.

A year ago against Toulouse in the final, Toulon were involved in a turgid slugfest without any tries. This looked to be even more of a bruising dogfight until a moment of genius from Toulouse-bound Kockott on the stroke of half-time.

With fly-half Tales in the hole getting ready for a drop goal attempt that would have sent the underdogs into the dressing-rooms in front, the South African showed a slight of hand that a magician would have been proud of.

He dummied the pass back to his number 10, diverting the attention of Toulon's chargers, before darting through a gaping hole, with Frederic Michalak totally flummoxed, to dot down under the posts.

Kockott's own conversion took the score out to 10-3 at the break with Toulon manager Bernard Laporte, who was already halfway down the tunnel, looking on furiously.

Before that inspirational score, which came after the half-time buzzer, it had been a midfield stalemate.

Wilkinson had hit the post with the first penalty attempt of the night before being given a second opportunity straight in front of the woodwork moments later.

Seremaia Bai almost got Castres going with a weaving break but the underdogs spilled the ball in the corner five yards out.

Yet the European champions committed suicide as Matt Giteau spilled the ball almost on his line and from the resulting scrum, Toulon were penalised and Kockott levelled the scores on 14 minutes.

Castres were pinged for not rolling away but Wilkinson missed for the second time in three attempts when his penalty from halfway dropped just under bar.

Toulon must have had some hairdryer treatment from Laporte because they were a different animal after the break.

Bastareaud charged to within inches of the line before Castres were penalised and Wilkinson knocked over his second penalty.

The game had really opened up as Ibrahim Diarra wasted an overlap 10 yards out by trying to go it alone. Castres were subsequently awarded a penalty but Kockott hit the upright.

Toulon almost caved in again, trying to run the ball out from behind their line and after Chris Masoe dropped it, replacement scrum-half Sebastien Tillous-Borde saved the day by getting his hands under the ball to prevent Tales from touching down.

Wilkinson missed his third kick of the night when hitting the post from halfway but he then slotted over a penalty from the 10-yard line as Toulon closed to within a point at 10-9 with 13 minutes left.

Yet Castres brilliantly manipulated themselves into a drop-goal position twice in the space of two minutes and Tales knocked both over to leave Toulon needing a converted try to draw level.

That sparked a crazy finale as more handling errors denied Toulon the chance to hit back before Kockott sealed victory with a penalty, only for Delon Armitage to go over in the left corner for an unconverted consolation try after the final buzzer.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130601/rugbyu-castres-stun-toulon-win-french-top-14-title