Leinster scrum coach Marco Caputo warns of Castres’ physical approach

Former Clermont player expects French side to be ‘very abrasive and very confrontational’

Leinster’s Michael Bent did an “outstanding job” deputising for Mike Ross at short notice against Wasps. Photograph: Billy Stickland / Inpho

Leinster scrum coach Marco Caputo hailed Michael Bent for the "outstanding job" the much-derided Kiwi did in deputising for Mike Ross at short notice against Wasps last Sunday.

But in welcoming back Ross for next Sunday's European Champions Cup game in Castres, Caputo drew on his own experiences as a frontrower with Clermont Auvergne to envisage an altogether more searching and potentially seismic scrum confrontation.

Should he be called into action against Castres, Bent will have extracted “a huge amount of confidence” from his efforts last Sunday at the RDS, according to Caputo, who played at Castres’ Stade Pierre Antoine twice during his three-year stint with Clermont (2000-03), losing 39-30 and 24-21.

"I'm expecting them to be very abrasive and very confrontational," said Caputo, who added that Rob Kearney would also return to the starting XV. "Having played in the Top 14 myself and gone down to Castres as a player I know how much importance they place on la conquête, the scrummaging and the mauling, all the real confrontational aspects of the game."

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“They’ll come at us with their scrum. They’ll try to drive us with their driving maul, and the confidence they can get from that. The crowd then becomes involved. If they spot a weakness they’ll come after you there and it’s just such a huge part of the French psyche, so we’ve got to be good in those areas. I thought we answered a lot of those questions against Wasps but we’re going to have to be even better.”

Last season

Revisiting the shock of falling 14-0 behind in their must-win, penultimate pool match in Castres last season,

Eoin Reddan

also recalled a 21-15 defeat there in 2009 with a Wasps side which had won the Heineken Cup two seasons previously (against a Castres outfit which had lost four of their previous five pool games and were thus out of contention).

“We had to win to qualify and they were out by a mile. We were a fairly decent side and they ended up beating us pretty well. They buck the French trend in that every time you play them you will have people writing about them and asking ‘are they interested?’ because it’s a French thing. In my experience, I have never played down there when they haven’t been anything but 110 per cent committed. This will be my fourth time there now.”

Castres’ only previous win in ‘08-09 was when they mugged Leinster 18-15 a week after losing 33-3 at the RDS; their third defeat out of three games. Champions of France the season before last, and beaten finalists against Toulon after ending Clermont’s long unbeaten home run in the play-offs, Castres currently sit one point above the relegation places after six league defeats in nine games.

But noting that Castres had won their last three home games (the most recent by 51-10 against Grenoble) Rhys Ruddock agreed that Leinster needed to rediscover their nasty side.

“I think we lacked a little bit of that this season starting off. We’ve only just started to really implement ourselves in terms of that physicality and nastiness at the weekend but it still wasn’t quite where we can be. I think it needs to be another step up, but the nastiness is definitely something we’ll be using this week as well.”

Leinster attack

On a similar theme, Reddan maintained “there was definitely an edge about us last week that probably allowed us to get out of a hole”. That said, he admitted that Leinster’s attack had not been good enough up to now this season, primarily due to inaccuracy at the breakdown.

“It’s about realising how much earlier we have to be to the breakdown now,” he added, citing Munster’s tries against Leinster and Sale, and Gordon D’Arcy’s “perfectly legal, absolutely accurate” clear-out for Darragh Fanning’s second try against Wasps.

“When you see tries when nobody has really stood out against a good team it means that the breakdown’s been really good. So overall I’d say our attack hasn’t been good enough, but we’ve identified how to fix it and we’re a little nearer to fixing that now.”

Meantime, in describing Michael Cheika as the man who "goes down in Leinster history as the architect of change", Caputo noted that the prospective next coach of the Wallabies repeated the feat at the Waratahs. "He put some steel in what was considered in Australian rugby as a team with a soft underbelly. I think he will do a great job for Australian rugby, I think Australian rugby is crying out for a guy like Michael."

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley

Gerry Thornley is Rugby Correspondent of The Irish Times