MAGICAL MONTPELLIER

Le 20 mai 2019

Before this match was played everybody knew what had to be done, Montpellier were lying 7th and needed the bonus point win against Stade Francais to have any chance of finishing in the TOP 6 qualifiers and if they were successful, another bonus point win next week away against the mighty Clermont, who are already qualified for a semi final place along with Toulouse. The match was advertised for the 300th game by Captain Fantastique Fulgence Ouedraogo, who has been a servant to his club, Montpellier for near on 20 years, curiously he did not lead the team out onto the park, this game had more importance than that for Fulgence and his club. 

The game got under way and it was Stade who scored first, Benoit Paillaugue hands slipped as he tried to pass from the scrum and the ball ballooned up into the air, Macalou said thank you intercepted and went off to the Montpellier try line with little opposition, Sanchez added the extras and 7-0 for the Parisians’. Thankfully the excellent home attendance did not have to wait long for the riposte from the home team, a penalty was given and touch was found, the usual rolling maul and it was as per usual underneath it all was Bismark Du Plessis as his pack took him over the line, La Paille added the extras from the touch line with a magnificent kick, 7-7 and all to play for. In the 10th minute Fulgence Ouedraogo took a massive knock to the head and that was his game finished and very unlikely he would be available for next week, a massive blow for the team and on his 300th appearance, this was more than bad luck, he was replaced by Martin Devergie. Second try for Montpellier, the forwards make ground the ball comes out and Henri Immelman broke through the defence, he passed to Nadalo who gave a great flip pass to the young Yvan Reilhac who did the rest, La Paille added the extras and it was 14-7 for the hosts. Minutes later Montpellier loose Louis Picamoles again concussion, 2 of their leaders missing and only 24mins on the clock this was not good for the hosts. This game was going backwards and forwards both teams attacking and it was still anyone’s game. Next try was again that man Macalou, after good work from the Paris forwards he crashed over just getting the ball on the line, the extras were added by Sanchez again all level at 14-14. Stade got themselves into trouble with the ref and Waisea got 10 mins in the bin for a high tackle on Yacouba Camara, and Montpellier had a try by Gabby Ngandebe disallowed after Jaques Du Plessis had blocked a defender, shame as it was a class effort. Hal time eventually came and the two teams went to the break for a well deserved rest as both teams were playing their part in making this a real classic.

The second half got under way and Montpellier still needed 3 more tries to get that all important bonus point, they very nearly had two tries scored against them but after videos the ref decided both had faults but Gael Fickou was causing havoc every time he had the ball, two lucky escapes for Montpellier, this game was being played at break neck speed. Montpellier worked the ball forward after a great steal from Bismark Du Plessis the ball came out to Yvan Reilhac who saw the space on his inside and left the defence clutching at straws, he drew the full back and served Aaron Cruden on a platter and under the sticks he went, La Paille added the extras 21-14. Sanchez added 2 more penalties for Stade to bring the score to 21-20 with just 15 mins. left on the clock, but these last 15mins. probably produced more heart attacks in the crowd than any game ever played. Firstly La Paille dived over under the sticks after a dominant scrum he added the extras himself, 28-20. From the kick off Bismarck Du Plessis collected the ball made yards and then hoofed down the park, Gabby Ngandebe and Henri Immelman chased, Gabby got his boot to it and Henri dived on it to score, a try that Stade never saw coming, again La Paille added the extras, 35-20, and that was the magical bonus point Montpellier needed. The game continued and just one min. to go after a missed touch from Aaron Cruden Stade attacked and it was Etien who scores for Stade the extras were missed 35-25. Just about time for the kick off before the siren and Montpellier collect the ball and from nowhere Momo Haouas spots a tiny space and goes for it, Martin Devergie imitates a Spanish bull fighter to let him pass through the tiny space, 35mts to go this is a prop with the ball surely they would catch him, Momo accelerated as he can and dived Aston like over and into the hallowed ground, the next seconds were euphoria, the bench was jumping the coaches the same and the players all dive on Momo who finished with a massive smile on his face under almost all of his team mates, by the time that try had got to the after match reception it was more 50mts, 3 side steps, and two dummy passes at the speed of M’bappe, but any prop who scores a try as important as that, has the privilege to exaggerate just a little. Final score Montpellier 42 Stade Francais 25 and that all important bonus point regained.

This was one hell of a team performance from the boys, loosing Ouedraogo and Picamoles early on did not affect them mentally they stuck to their task like true pros, and are to be congratulated for their collective and individual performances, of course the festivities followed on the pitch, them in the changing rooms finally upstairs at the reception where prizes and mementos were handed out to players and backroom staff who would not be here next season. Next up on Saturday 25th Clermont and all to do again but with this ambiance and collectivity who knows anything is now possible.

Steve Whittell.