Progression, power and 5 points !

Le 04 septembre 2017

Two games played and maximum points scored, that’s the conclusion of the first 2 days of Montpellier’s new season in the Elite TOP 14, looks perfect on paper but there is still plenty of hard work to do. Saturday evening and the visitors were Oyonnax, newly promoted from last season’s Pro D2, as was Agen the week before, press and many others were saying an easy victory, but nothing is easy when it come to the TOP 14 and teams like Oyonnax have absolutely nothing to loose away from home, so throwing caution to the wind could always cause problems for the home side.

Vern Cotter brought in some young fresh talent again for this match, giving Gabriel Ngandebe his first start of the season, this youngster was playing Federale 1 rugby last season with Massy, a whirlwind turnabout for the U20’s French International, the coach Vern Cotter also included  French International Yacouba Camara, his first selection for Montpellier, youngsters Enzo Sanga, Momo Haouas on the bench,  but the awaited moment was the return of home bred Louis Picamoles after his several seasons at Toulouse and one season in the UK at Northampton where he was attributed with the nickname of "King Louis" we will have to wait and see if Montpellier’s new Captain keeps his Right Royal Regalia, that will depend on his performances, the supporters and of course our beloved friends the Press. With the injury to Benoit Paillaugue, Montpellier had a very experienced International flair to their halfbacks with Ruan Pienaar and Aaron Cruden coming together for their first start to the new season.

The match started with Montpellier showing that they meant business and attacked from the off, a penalty by Pienaar and 3pts to the good, the crowd of around 10,000 did not have to wait long for the first try, a line out 5mts out, Bismark to Misha, Misha to Bismark and that was that, everybody else on the park were spectators and first try of the season for Bismark Du Plessis, the conversion was missed 8-0 to the hosts. Oyonnax got a penalty back through Ruiz, immediately countered by Pienaar and again Ruiz the score moving on to 11-6. It was not long before new Captain and new signing Louis Picamoles got in on the act, scrum 5 meters out, Louis picks and goes and a short pass to Pienaar who dummies and goes over in the corner, Montpellier get their second try but the conversion was missed 16-6 and already daylight was in evidence. That was the scoring for the first half but with the wind behind them in the 2nd half Montpellier will be looking for a second consecutive bonus point. Half time score Montpellier 16-6 Oyonnax.

The second half was again all Montpellier, Oyonnax had their moments but a very solid defence by the hosts kept the score sheet virgin for the visitors. Further tries from Francois Steyn (45min.) Henry Immelman and finally Louis Picamoles who sort of spoilt the South African monopoly of try scoring in the match, South Africa 4 France 1, but no one cares who scores, as long as the final result is Montpellier having more points than their opposition. The final score : Montpellier 37 - 6 Oyonnax.

Another 5 points victory which leaves Montpellier in the number one spot and no one can catch them after day 2, a well deserved victory which was a solid performance, there were several mistakes, handling and offloads which could have been punished by better teams, but it is still early days and everything looks promising, iron out these niggly errors and the scoring will flow much easier.

Paul Willemse was named Man of the Match by Bernie the Kit Man, an honour given to him by Vern Cotter in appreciation for his endeavour and work ethics, the young Gabriel Ngandebe did himself no harm as it was clear to see he was very nervous for his very first TOP 14 examination, the back row of Camara, Picamoles, and Liebenberg showed their skills in defence and attack working together with excellent merit. Antoine Guillamon had another good game and our South African International try scorers Steyn, Immelman, Pienaar and of course Bismark Du Plessis all gave their professional best. If the mayonnaise is going to bind then the continuation of skills and hard work must be kept high on the agenda, but Vern Cotter will make sure that happens and his coaching team are already showing that their skills are paying dividends to the players, get rid of the small handling and offloading errors and more tries will be scored. Montpellier dominated the scrums and line outs and with excellent power and vision by the front five who produced some good clean ball for the three quarters to play with

Next week a real test, the first away game against the enemy of old, Castres, never easy at Pierre Antoine, but this first real test will give all an opportunity to see just exactly where Montpellier are. KO is 20.45 Saturday the 9th September.

Steve Whittell.