Le 14 janvier 2019

European Champions Cup is here again and the visitors are Newcastle Falcons, the first meeting at Newcastle in October saw the Falcons scoring in the 89th minute to steal victory from Montpellier, hopefully this sunny Saturday afternoon it will be a very different story if Montpellier is to qualify for the quarter finals. After the loss at home last week to Lyon, the boys have worked hard for the last few days to prepare this Champions Cup encounter and put right the mistakes they made the previous week. The conditions for this match were simply magnificent bright winter sunshine with a gentle breeze behind the backs of Montpellier in the first half, the crowd was poor for such an important game. Montpellier had made several changes from the previous week resting some players and benching others, plus last minute injuries to Nadolo and Cruden just a couple of days before the game did not help Vern Cotter’s selection.

The game was started by Italian referee Mitrea and from the off Montpellier showed  they meant business, the distribution was good and the silly offloads of last week were left in the changing room, the Falcons also played their part attacking when they could and also defending well as they were under pressure in the first minutes of the game. Captain Louis Picamoles playing his 100th game for Montpellier was on numerous occasions showing his strength, after his break down in the middle of the park, the ball came out fast, Pienaar, Goosen, then the young Vincent who timed his pass to perfection for Jimmy Nagusa to go over for the first try of the game, the extras were missed 5-0, Flood got a penalty back for the Falcons to make it 5-3 after 22 minuts. Montpellier were dominating the game and it was not long before their second try this time the young Yvan Reilhac going over,  the extras were added  by Ruan Pienaar 12-3. Montpellier continued their efforts right up to half  time but could not extend the score, they had their chances but good Falcon defending kept them out, finally the referee blew for the break and the teams headed for the changing rooms the score 12-3 to the hosts Montpellier.

The second half got underway and Montpellier looked even more explosive, faster, more aggressive and also some excellent hard nut tackling by the hosts saw the Falcons permanently on the back foot. Paul Willemse went over using his massive force, then it was the turn of Henry Immelman after some sterling work from Jan Serfontein, next of the long list of try scores was Nicolaas Van Rensburg all converted by Pienaar bring the score to 33-3 which of course included the attacking bonus point. Two more tries were to follow, Immelman intercepted and let everybody standing to go over for his second, and finally Ruffenach went over after a line out 5 meters out and the maul took him over with the rest of the forwards.Newcastle did get their first try a couple of minuts from the end Kibirige going over in the corner, the conversion was missed and the final score, Montpellier 45 Newcastle 8 a very healthy victory for the boys which sets up a mini final for pool 5 next Friday evening in Edinburgh at the National stadium Murrayfield, this will be a winning take all and the right to have a quarter final place in this seasons Champions Cup.

Montpellier showed what they can do when the mindset is in place; they played a simple uncomplicated game with a good game plan using speed and aggression in all parts of their game, the result 7 tries to one, keep it honest and simple is often the best result. Louis Picamoles was Man of the Match which he deserved but it could have been one of many players as there was a few who deserved the vase. Nice touch in the changing room, after the game, Paul Willemse celebrated his selection to the French squad for the first game of the 6 Nations game vs Wales in Paris, he was given the formal boot filled with beer and while he consumed, the players and staff gave a rousing performance of the Marseillaise, now he is a fully paid up member of France. So all is set for a mini final qualification against Edinburgh on Friday evening in Murrayfield, there may not be a best 2nd place qualifier in pool 5 so its simple Montpellier have to win this game to continue in Europe without given their opponents nothing, a very tall order but very possible if they play how they did today.

Steve Whittell.