Castaignede the curse of all Toulouse

Heineken Cup: The favourite son becomes public enemy No 1 as he returns to storm a French stronghold
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The Midi-Pyrenees city of Toulouse was the last resting place of Thomas Aquinas. Most of the inhabitants would wish the same could be said for Thomas Castaignÿde. The brilliant Frenchman, who helped Toulouse win the inaugural Heineken Cup in 1996, could go on to do the same for Saracens after the London club opened their European campaign with the sweetest of victories.

The Midi-Pyrenees city of Toulouse was the last resting place of Thomas Aquinas. Most of the inhabitants would wish the same could be said for Thomas Castaignÿde. The brilliant Frenchman, who helped Toulouse win the inaugural Heineken Cup in 1996, could go on to do the same for Saracens after the London club opened their European campaign with the sweetest of victories.

Castaignÿde stamped his authority on his old stamping ground with another influential performance in which he contributed 22 points with four penalties, two conversions and two drop goals. Castaignÿde 1, Toulouse 0.

After conceding two tries to go 15-3 down, Saracens, with their forwards in magnificent form, counter-punched devatstatingly to secure a precious away win in one of the strongholds of French rugby. It was a tour de force and Saracens, leaders of the Zurich Premiership, have already established themselves as favourites to quality from Pool Three.

Nothing should detract from a display which contained all the ingredients for European success - above all tremendous character and discipline - but it has to be said that the referee, Alain Rolland from Ireland, was, at the very best, erratic. He drove Toulouse to distraction with a series of decisions that convinced the French that he was wearing a fez.

By their nervy and fitful play, Toulouse played into Saracens' hands and their handling on a glorious day was quite disastrous. Mr Rolland punished them mercilessly. By the end, with the crowd baying for his blood, Mr Rolland walked off the pitch with the protection of three large bodyguards.

The first half had already ended in near-uproar, a Toulouse attack in front of the Saracens posts being disrupted by a defence that was clearly offside. Instead of awarding a penalty to the home side, the referee signalled the end of the half, which indicated that, for Toulouse, it was indeed the beginning of the end.

Toulouse had seen a 15-3 lead turned into a 16-15 deficit by an awesome display from the Saracens pack. Toulouse got off to a dream start, a kick from the stand-off Yann Delaigue bouncing perfectly for Michel Marfaing, who beat Castaignÿde to the corner. Marfaing took the chance brilliantly but the fact remains he was at least five yards offside.

Three minutes later Rolland, not for the first time, did Toulouse for offside and Castaignÿde stepped up to plant the ball between the posts and into the faces of the massed ranks of Toulouse supporters. It was the first taste of the booing that would reverberate round Stadium Toulouse in ever-increasing intensity.

Saracens appeared to be in big trouble when Marfaing then contributed another 10 points in the space of two minutes. After landing a penalty, he capitalised on a shocking mistake by Duncan McCrae. Delaigue made a break and when he kicked to the line McCrae made a hash of his clearance, leaving Marfaing to score behind the posts, his conversion opening up a 12-point lead.

Castaignÿde chipped away with two penalties - he missed two others - and it was the least Saracens deserved for a purple patch during which Kris Chesney, Kevin Sorrell and Tony Diprose came desperately close to crossing the line. It was when the latter was held up, resulting in a scrum five, that Saracens scored their first try, Kyran Bracken working the blindside to send in Darragh O'Mahony. He was tackled just short but then stretched out a hand to plant the ball over the line. Castaignÿde converted beautifully from the touchline to give Saracens a lead they were never to lose.

"It will be very emotional for me but no matter how loud the noise my aim is to help my new friends beat my old friends," Castaignÿde had said.

"Toulouse is my town and I would love them to do well but I really want to show France what I can achieve with my new club. The biggest difference I've noticed is one of discipline. In England the players do what they are told whereas in France we try to get out of that." So that's why he left.

Castaignÿde proceeded to break Toulouse hearts immediately after the interval. First he dropped a goal and then made a searing break down the left flank, fed Dan Luger with an inside pass and although the wing was held just short, Scott Murray was on hand to score near the posts. Castaignÿde's conversion drove them into a 26-15 lead and it could have been even better. The full-back raced in for a try but was then called back after a penalty was awarded to Saracens. Had the referee played advantage Castaignÿde's try would have stood. As it was he banged over the penalty to increase the Saracens lead to 14 points.

Toulouse stopped the bleeding when Lee Stensness breached the defence with a barnstorming run and Xavier Garbajosa was on the end of it for a try which Marfaing converted to reduce Saracens' advantage to seven points with 25 minutes remaining.

However, the anticipated Toulouse climax never materialised and it was left to Castaignÿde, inevitably, to reply the coup de grâce with his second drop goal.

Toulouse: X Garbajosa; S Ougier, C Desbrosse, L Stensness, M Marfaing; Y Delaigue (A Penaud, 65), J Cazalbou (J Fillol, 72); C Califano (capt), Y Bru (W Servat, 68), F Tournaire (C Soulette, 50), H Miorion (F Belot, 50), D Gerard, J Bouilhou, I Maka, C Labit (D Lacroix, 50).

Saracens: T Castaignÿde; D O'Mahony, B Johnston, K Sorrell, D Luger; D McRae, K Bracken (capt); D Flatman, R Russell (M Cairns, 19), P Wallace, D Grewcock, S Murray (B Davison, 70), R Hill, T Diprose, K Chesney.

Referee: A Rowland (Ireland).

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