The Clermont volcano extinguished again !
There has been plenty of ink flowing over this game. Montpellier top of the table before the weekends’ games, the return of Vern Cotter to his home of 8 seasons and one Bouclier, Julien Bardy, returning to his former team, Louis Picamoles non 6 Nations selection and did he have something to prove. And of course the situation of Clermont current French Champions and their very meagre 10th place in this seasons Championship. The consensus is, if they lose today against Montpellier there is ample doubt whether they will qualify for this season's playoffs, something which has not happened since many a year.
Montpellier had Jannie Du Plessis, Ruan Pienaar, back after injury and new Medical Joker, former All Black Jarrad Hoeata making his first appearance for his new club. Everything was set for a superb match, the Stadium chokka, both teams having something to prove, Montpellier having won the last 3 seasons here could they possibly make it a 4th, the day after Vern Cotter’s 56th birthday, that would be some present to him from the boys. The game started at 100 mph. massive tackles, good open play, fair aggression from both teams was on display, no one was giving an inch. Montpellier were first on the scoreboard Capt. Picamoles using brute force to get over the line, Ruan Pienaar added the extras, plus another penalty 2 minutes later, Clermont 0 Montpellier 10. This excellent advantage did not last long, Laidlaw sent a penalty threw the sticks 3-7, and then after some sterling work by Remy Grosso who was showing excellent form, Jedrasiak dived over after the former was held up just short, Laidlaw added the extras 10-10. Montpellier again took the lead and the very same Louis Picamoles who got his 2nd try after Nemsie Nadolo had gone close, King Louis crashed over after a short but devastating run, again Ruan Pienaar added the extras 17-10.
This is some game both teams giving absolutely nothing away, the first scrum after nearly 30 minutes shows the class of both teams very few mistakes or missed tackles, unlucky for Montpellier both Julien Bardy and Aaron Cruden had to be replaced before the half hour had passed. Laidlaw added another 2 penalties before half time and when the ref blew, Montpellier had a one point advantage 16-17. The second half got under way and it was a more dominant Clermont who started to take control, first another Laidlaw penalty to put Clermont in front for the first time in the game, 19-17. This game was not going to give any attacking bonus points and the winner would have to fight tooth and nail to get the spoils, it was anybodies for the taking, but who? Penalty for Pienaar 19-20, this game was not for the faint hearted.
Another Laidlaw penalty and Clermont one again kept their noses in front 22-20, but not for long as Pienaar yet again was spot on with his penalty 22-23 this match was fit for the end of season final never mind a last game of the weekend’s Top 14.
The 65min. and Clermont attack the Montpellier try line, from a ruck only metres out Hingano, dived over the maul and everybody to score. The fact that he fleured on of his players in front of him while diving over could have been seen as offside, but the ref never asked for the video, and of course Laidlow converted, Clermont now had their biggest lead of the game so far 29-23 with just over 10mins left to play. Montpellier came back at Clermont and battered their line but to no avail, then Clermont did the same to Montpellier, this was back and forwards with the supporters from sides holding their breath, still anything could happen.
Into the last 5mins and again Montpellier are camped in the Clermont 22, a maul, they advance, remaul, and then Pienaar gave a pass to Nemsie Nadolo 2 mts. from the line and he crashed over, Video!! The ref looked several times and finally his arm was raised, just over a minute to play, 90seconds for the conversion and Pienaar took advantage of the rules. He certainly is not the first to do so, and to the Clermont’s supporters displeasure he whacked it over, 29-30.Only second to go after the restart, Montpellier gather and find touch it’s all over, but no Clermont have the ball and Montpellier have to defend for the seconds remaining without infringing, they got their hands on the ball and it was dispatched into touch and the arms went up for a truly great victory. Vern Cotter retired immediately to the changing room, showing no emotion. Pure class by the coach, maybe a little smile in the changing room when the boys entered after the handshakes ?
If he wanted a great birthday present from the Boys this was it, Happy Birthday Coach. This game was truly great a performance by both teams second to none, but sport is cruel and again for the 4th season in succession Montpellier comes away with the spoils. If players were to be singled out as playing out of their skins, it would be correct to name all 30 plus replacements but this was a true team performance by Montpellier, guts aggression, some blood and lots of heart, gave them just one more point than Clermont but that one point was enough and Montpellier are once again in No 1 spot in this seasons Championship ahead of La Rochelle and Racing 92. A week’s holiday and then another mountain retreat reoxygenation for Montpellier before their next match away to Oyonnax on the weekend of 17th Feb.
The holiday they deserve, relaxation, rest and some good family time, with maybe a beer or three, and not too much thought about Boucliers far too soon for that !