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NO SCRUM NO WIN

Lundi 10 Février 2014
An old adage often quoted by pundits and many coaches, but frequently there is not a truer word said, even with today’s terrific defences if the scrum is not won and the battle upfront not all conquering, then rarely does a team come off the park victorious. Montpellier was the visitors at Stade Ernest-Wallon Toulouse on Saturday evening for the 18th day and final match of this weekends TOP 14 fixtures. Both teams were beset with selection and injury problems, Toulouse having 6 away on 6 Nations International duty plus several injured, Montpellier had 5 on International but their injury list is absolutely choc a block, there were youngsters Escande and Perraux playing 9 and 10 and a back row that had never played together before today, so the task against multiple French Championship winners, 19 in all, was massive.
 
The pitch was very heavy and a ball difficult to hold onto, so there were mistakes aplenty, but all the same good rugby was played despite the conditions. Both teams had lineout problems, Toulouse more than Montpellier and it was good to see the visitors steal several lineout balls. It was a tough night for the forwards as most of the game was played around them with little ball going to the backs, but they did their share of the donkey work in defence and the tackling was at times ferocious. A game with no tries is often not great but this could not be said about tonight’s epic struggle for power, both packs hammered at each other for the full 80 mines. And the only difference between the two sides was penalty kicks. Mid week Montpellier has a scrimmaging session, with an intervention by Didier Sanchez, a front row forward of days gone by, whom is now an expert on the set piece and all the skulduggery that goes with this wonderful masterpiece of human power, he bawls commands as in yesteryear and is never questioned, but still manages compliments when the job is well done, unfortunately they have broken the mould and no longer do we see this excellent form of personalised expertise. Hopefully someone sends him a thank you message as his devotion was certainly seen in Montpellier’s set piece scrimmaging this weekend.  The only scores in the first half were 2 penalties by Barraque and Bezy for Toulouse and one from Escande for Montpellier, most of the play was in the middle of the park with both teams sizing each other, Tulou, Montpellier’s no.8 had one good run down the touch line but jus failed a meter short and there were one or two nervous moments on the Montpellier try line but the defence held out.
 
The second half was much the same as the first, but Eric Escande having the advantage in the penalty kicking, getting three to Bezy’s two, this was mostly from the dominant Montpellier scrum that kept rolling forward and creating all sorts of problems for their hosts. Montpellier did have the upper hand for most of the second 40 mins. but could not get themselves in to the hallowed ground, with seconds to go and the scores tied at 12-12 ,one final scrum to Montpellier more or less on the half way line, a massive shove by the Montpellier forwards, disarray from Toulouse and the ref blew for the final penalty of the game as the siren had already sounded. The young Escande was nearly on his knees after playing the full 80mins, Little Big Man, Benoit Paillaugue had only been on the park for 20mins, the obvious choice to take the penalty, but the pressure was on, never have Montpellier beaten Toulouse on their patch!!! Benoit stepped up, smacked the pigskin, true as a dye straight threw the middle, game over: Victory to Montpellier 12-15. 
 
The scenes that followed were folkloric Thibault Privat threw Paillaugue into the air, Anthony Floch jumped higher than both, and while all this was going on the young Eric Escande had his head buried in Jaray Russell's chest not able to watch, absolutely brilliant, congratulations all round, you would think they have just won the World Cup, NO this was better than that, and then a lap of Honour, a very well deserved lap of honour. No one is to be singled out above the rest, this was a team performance, all heart with a little blood and guts thrown in, everyone putting in 100%, the youngsters were brilliant, never tiring, the more matured showing their experience and why they are there. How good to see Montpellier in 4th place in the TOP 14, on Sunday morning and poor Mon. Galthie was not there to see his charges make a little piece of  TOP 14 history, he also was on International duty, but with a microphone in his hand,  the same could happen in Clermont in two weeks time, another 6 Nations day doubled with the Championship, and more than likely Fabien Galthie  absent, they say history often repeats itself, even if it is a dream, but sometimes dreams become reality and someone has to break the 72 winning home game record of Clermont’s, so why not Montpellier!!!
 
Steve Whittell.