Tom Vickers' Castres v Northampton Saints preview
Fixture: Castres v Northampton Saints (Champions Cup Pool 4 - game two)
Date and kick-time: Saturday, October 22, 3.15pm
Venue: Stade Pierre Antoine, Castres
Castres: Geoffrey Palis; Horacio Agulla, Thomas Combezou, Robert Ebersohn, David Smith; Benjamin Urdapilleta, Rory Kockott; Antoine Tichit, Jody Jenneker, Daniel Kotze, Loic Jacquet, Victor Moreaux, Mathieu Babillot, Anthony Jelonch, Alex Tulou. Replacements: Brice Mach, Mihaita Lazar, Yohan Montes, Thibault Lassale, Alexandre Bias, Antoine Dupont, Julien Dumora, Florian Vialelle
Saints: Ben Foden; James Wilson, Rory Hutchinson, Harry Mallinder, George North; Stephen Myler, Nic Groom; Alex Waller, Dylan Hartley, Kieran Brookes, Courtney Lawes, Michael Paterson, Tom Wood, Teimana Harrison, Louis Picamoles. Replacements: Mikey Haywood, Ethan Waller, Paul Hill, Api Ratuniyarawa, Jamie Gibson, Lee Dickson, Nafi Tuitavake, Ahsee Tuala
Injuries: Saints: Tom Stephenson (broken leg), JJ Hanrahan (ankle), James Craig (concussion), Luther Burrell (concussion)
Referee: Ian Davies (Wales)
Most recent meeting: Friday 17, January, 2014: Saints 13 Castres 3 (Heineken Cup)
Tom’s preview: There was a time when the only certainties in life were death, taxes and Saints drawing Castres in the Heineken Cup group stages.
For four seasons in succession, Saints squared up to the side from Stade Pierre Antoine.
The results were largely predictable, too, with both teams refusing to budge on home turf.
In fact, in eight meetings between October, 2010 and January, 2014 - the away side won just once.
That was when Saints secured a 23-12 victory in Castres on their way to winning all of ther pool games and propelling themselves to the final, where they lost in heartbreaking fashion to Leinster.
So that shows just how good a Saints or Castres team will need to be to breach each other’s citadel this season.
Castres are formidable at their fortress, where they have won four of their five matches this season.
They may have lost three successive games, including their Champions Cup opener at Leinster last weekend, but those encounters have all been away.
The last time Castres ran out at home they beat last season’s defeated Champions Cup finalists Racing 92 31-23.
So Saints know exactly what to expect this Saturday.
Mallinder’s men should have won at Stade Pierre Antoine on their most recent visit to the quaint, atmospheric ground, but they squandered big chances and were beaten 19-13 in October, 2013.
Losing with plenty of possession and winning with little of it has been a bit of a theme for Saints of late, and they will hope to be ruthless this time round.
They defended stoically against Montpellier last weekend, slaying the giants in the opposition ranks.
And they will need to stand tall again if they are to get a crucial away win.
Saints will have to win at least one away game if they are to progress from Pool 4, and now would be a great time to do it.
They have yet to register back-to-back wins during the formative stages of this season and some momentum would be welcome ahead of the return to Premiership action.
Another victory would also set Saints up nicely for their December double-header against Leinster.
So there is so much to play for again this Saturday.
And Saints will have it all to do to ensure that predictable French power doesn’t reign supreme across the Channel once again.
Tom’s prediction: Castres 18 Saints 14