Joe El-Abd played a major part in one of the rugby success stories of the season.

Now the coach from Brighton has explained how doing it the hard way helped his Castres Olympique side upset the odds at the Stade de France.

El-Abd, from the well-known Brighton sporting family, was part of the three-man coaching and management team who masterminded Castres’ title success in the French Top 14.

The sixth seeds in the play-offs beat all the top three to take the Bouclier de Brennus, culminating in a 29-13 demolition of favourites Montpellier in the final.

One of the most tight-knit clubs in the league partied near the Eiffel Tower on Saturday night, then flew home to celebrate in the streets with most of Castres’ 45,000 population.

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Joe El-Abd, right of picture, with the Bouclier de Brennus

El-Abd, who swapped football for rugby at the age of 17 and started playing for Hove, is making quite a name for himself as a coach.

The 38-year-old played in the back row for Bristol before making a big move to mighty Toulon.

He took up a coaching role at Castres, a town 50 miles from Toulouse in the rugby mad south-west, via a stint with Oyonnax.

Now he could be hot property in the coaching world after a triumph based on defence, forward effort and organisation, three of his key areas.

El-Abd told The Argus: “We are a small club compared to the huge clubs in the championship. We have the 11th biggest budget in the Top 14.

“We are not like other clubs. I’ve played for Toulon where it’s a big town.

“This has a real community feel. Everyone gets involved.

“There are two of us coaching plus a director of rugby. We are very clear with what we want to do. The players don’t get mixed messages.”

Castres finished sixth in the table to take the last qualifying spot for the knockout stage, then scored a brilliant 23-11 derby win at third-placed Toulouse.

The top two in the league table sat out that stage of the knockout.

Both semi-finals were sell-outs staged at the magnificent Grouparama Stadium, Lyon.

Castres watched on Friday night as Montpellier, who had come top of the standings, blitzed gallant Lyon 40-14.

Less than 24 hours later, Castres battled past second seeds Racing 19-14 to set up what looked a David v Goliath final in Paris. But they came through in style.

As scrum-half Rory Kockott put it: “It was hard, it was hot, it hurt sometimes. But we were able to show heart and balls in defence.”

Those words would have been music to the ears of El-Abd.

The defence and forwards coach said: “Racing got to the European final so to beat them in the last minute was a fantastic achievement.

“We were out of the gate straight away in the final and didn’t really let up.

“I think the fact we had already had two tough games before the final helped us.

“Montpellier had a pretty easy game in the semis.

“They looked fantastic that night but the final games come down to who wants to win it more and who can find a way to win when it’s close.

“We had been in that situation twice to get to the final.”

El-Abd, brother of ex-Albion defender Adam and Bognor centre-back Sami, has been in France for nine years now.

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His three children have all grown up speaking both French and English.

El-Abd himself speaks French with a hint of southern twang.

“Yes, I’ve got that but I’ve also got an English twang and I’m proud of that,” he said.

“We are happy here and I’ve got another year left at Castres.

“We will see what happens. Obviously things move on pretty quickly in the world of coaching.

“I’ve got big ambitions going forward. A director of rugby role would interest me eventually but I’m not in a mad rush.

“I was always quite interested in the coaching side but it is difficult to get a break in that area. The management of rugby players is an aspect I enjoy.”