Castres complete comeback win with 14 men to break Exeter hearts
Ma’ama Vaipulu sent off for high tackle on Luke Cowan-Dickie
Castres’ Rory Kockott box kicks under pressure from Tomas Francis of Exeter Chiefs during the Heineken Champions Cup match at the Stade Pierre-Fabre. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Castres 29 Exeter 25
Top 14 champions Castres hit back from 14-0 down inside the opening 15 minutes to edge past Exeter 29-25 in the Heineken Champions Cup, despite playing with 14 men for 44 minutes.
Backrower Ma’ama Vaipulu was dismissed for a high tackle on hooker Luke Cowan-Dickie.
The Chiefs had the better of the opening exchanges as Santiago Cordero’s mazy solo effort was followed moments later by a Matt Kvesic score. He squirmed through a lineout maul from Exeter’s third penalty kick to touch in quick succession to score unopposed and hand the Chiefs a 14-0 lead after 14 minutes.
Castres found a rapid answer with a try from Viallelle, who picked up a perfect pop pass to slice through Exeter’s defence and Julien Dumora reduced the gap further three minutes later after Exeter conceded a penalty in front of the posts.
The battle at the breakdown was ferocious and Dumora slotted a drop goal following a galloping break from Steve Mafi to bring the hosts within a point.
Dumora then added a 31st-minute penalty to put Castres ahead for the first time, but soon after he was forced off by injury and his replacement Yohan Le Bourhis extended the lead to 19-14 with a nerveless penalty.
Vaipulu was then dismissed for that tackle on Cowan-Dickie and Exeter capitalised almost immediately when Gareth Steenson charged down a kick from Le Bourhis and gathered to level the half-time score at 19-19.
Mafi then charged through the Chiefs five minutes after the break and Le Bourhis converted to give the hosts a 26-19 lead early in the second period before Steenson narrowed the deficit with a penalty after another high tackle.
Le Bourhis and Steenson exchanged furthered penalties as they game headed into the final 20 minutes with four points separating the sides.
A Le Bourhis drop goal hit a post and desperate defence was needed as Exeter tried to make the extra man count before Slade’s yellow evened up the numbers for the closing minutes.
Exeter elected to kick a penalty to touch with just over two minutes left to give themselves one last shot at victory.
But, after a knock-on at the following lineout, the Chiefs front row conceded the penalty that gave the points to Castres, who maintained their two-year unbeaten run at home in Europe.
CASTRES: A Batlle; M Laveau, R Ebersohn, F Vialelle, T Paris; J Dumora, L Radosavljevic; A Tichit, J Jenneker, D Kotze; S Mafi, L Jacquet; M Babillot, B Delaporte, M Vaipulu.
Replacements: Y Le Bourhis for Dumora (33 mins), T Stroe for Tichit (35), R Kockott for Radosavljevic (51), W Hounkpatin for Kotze (63), T Combezou for Ebersohn (64), P Sauzaret for Jenneker (69), V Moreaux for Mafi, A Tulou for Delaporte (both 74). Red card: Vaipulu (37 mins).
EXETER: P Dollman; J Nowell, H Slade, I Whitten, S Cordero; G Steenson, S Townsend; B Moon, L Cowan-Dickie, H Williams; O Atkins, W van der Sluys; D Armand, M Kvesic, T Lawday.
Replacements: J Yeandle for Cowan-Dickie (41 mins), J Maunder for Townsend (41), A Hepburn for Moon, T Francis for Williams (both 48), S Lonsdale for Lawday, S Hill for Whitten (both 57), T Salmon for van der Sluys (69), J Simmonds for Dollman (74).
Yellow card: Slade (72).