In a setting far removed from the European Rugby Champions Cup clashes that these two teams will have this season, Castres came out on top in the Vaquerin Challenge.
Playing against a Castres team much further along in its pre-season preparations - they open their Top 14 campaign against Pau next weekend - was always going to be tough for a Saints team having its first hit out of the summer, especially in the 30-degree Camares sunshine.
And so it proved in the opening exchanges, Castres opening the scoring in the eighth minute through back rower Steve Mafi.
But Saints had their chances, James Wilson, Ken Pisi and Michael Paterson all having good runs, and Lee Dickson having a dart to the whitewash halted by one of his own ruck guards. There was also a lineout drive opportunity five metres out, but again the Castres line held firm.
Aside from their opportunism from close range Castres offered relatively little in attack in the opening quarter. And Saints showed them how it was done, Luther Burrell cutting a great line onto a short JJ Hanrahan pass to cut straight through the blue defence and feed Tom Wood for the score.
Saints were camped out again on the Castres line immediately, Pisi grabbing a high kick superbly to set off up the right touchline. Castres’ defence scrambled and infringed, but when the maul was set up at the subsequent lineout the French pack remained disciplined to win its own penalty for the clearance.
There was a powerful charge from Ahsee Tuala - starting in the centres for the first time - and some nice combination work between Tom Collins and Howard Packman up the left wing, and with Hanrahan thriving off the speedy and efficient service from his scrum-half Dickson there was plenty to be positive about from this group of players’ opening 40 minutes.
More positive from Castres’ perspective was the way they finished the half, bookending the scoring with a superb try that featured nice handling and direct running from forwards and backs alike to feed big centre Afusipa Taumopeau.
As in the opening 40 minutes Castres got the first score after play resumed, big back rower Mathieu Babillot crashing over from close range after several minutes of pressure.
In the first half Saints had responded by getting onto the front foot. But aside from some strong work from the back row, Tom Stephenson getting into the action regularly on his return to action, and a couple of eye-catching runs from Ben Foden - one of which evaded a circling half-dozen Castres defenders - this second group of players struggled to get a consistent foothold in the game.
There were some decent positions earned, but a couple too many frustrating errors, too, which let Castres off the hook deep in their own territory. Mind you, this was not exclusively in the French half, with Stephenson being pulled back from a great run just after the hour mark thanks to a slight fumble in the build-up.
And even when things did click with an injection of pace in the next attack it did not come off as it did in the first half. Collins caught a Tom Kessell box kick superbly and supporting runners came with pace and nice angles.
But just when the final pass looked a formality up came Castres with an interception and a multi-phase attack of their own. Eventually they forced a lineout 20 metres out from Saints’ line and when the pack turned on the power referee Romain Poite was quick in awarding the penalty try.
Even quicker was Saints’ response. Kicking a penalty to the near touchline, Lewis Ludlam’s win at the tail set up good possession for the attack, George Pisi pulled in several defenders with a powerful run, and Teimana Harrison cut a line at pace to go over the whitewash.
It was a good try and reward for Saints’ efforts, but Castres had the last word of the match, Pierre Berard on hand to finish off a score in the corner.
First half - Wilson; K Pisi, Tuala, Burrell, Collins; Hanrahan, Dickson; Ma’afu, Clare, Denman, Onojaife, Paterson, Wood (capt), Nutley, Bennett
Second half - Foden (capt); Packman, G Pisi, Stephenson, Tuala; Myler, Kessell; A Waller, Marshall, Brookes, Peters, Onojaife, Gibson, Ludlam, Harrison
8mins CASTRES Try Mafi 5-0
23mins SAINTS Try Wood Con Hanrahan 5-7
34mins CASTRES Try Taumopeau Con Urdapilleta 12-7
HALF-TIME CASTRES 12 SAINTS 7
48mins CASTRES Try Babillot Con Urdapilleta 19-7
65mins CASTRES Try Penalty Con Dumora 26-7
69mins SAINTS Try Harrison Con Myler 26-14
78mins CASTRES Try Berard 31-14
FULL-TIME CASTRES 31 SAINTS 14