IT WAS NOT TO BE!!!
A few months ago no one gave Montpellier any chance of finishing in the TOP 6, there was even talk of relegation back into the PRO D2, and after a disastrous defeat vs USAP the players threw their cards on the table and sorted out their differences. From that moment a huge turn around with 9 games to play they go and win 8 but take the loosing bonus point in the only game lost. Victories at Castres and Toulon never achieved before in their TOP 14 season championship campaigns, this propelled them into the TOP 6 for the end of season play-offs, and their opponents were Lyon who qualified in 3rd place after a very good season beating Montpellier home and away.
The confidence was high in the Montpellier camp and without shouting from the roof tops the club was going about its business with a quite but confident status. Lyon had the home advantage and there were over 17,000 present to watch this quarter final play-off in a very hot and humid day the first of many as summer seems to have descended without warning and players were having to play in temperatures of around 30° when they are not used to it and it will be a very hard task, particularly in the last 20 mins or so, the Referee M. Ruiz even demanded water breaks after 20 mins in both halves of the game to combat the sizzling heat.
The game got under way and Montpellier could not have had a better start, attacking the Lyon line the hosts tried to clear with the boot, only for it to be charged down by Aaron Cruden, who dived on the ball before it went out of play, the La Paille converted and Montpellier were 0-7 to the good. La Paille added another 3 points from a penalty to pass 10 pts ahead everything looking good so far. Only minutes later Barassi got the first try for Lyon, somehow he sneaked through a mouse hole on the touch line and scampered all the way to the hallowed ground leaving Immelman clutching at straws with an incredible side step, the conversion was missed by Doussain the score Lyon 5 Montpellier 10. Wisniewski returned to the park after a concussion check to add Lyon first penalty attempt and bring the score to 8-10, nothing in this game and all to play for. La Paille added another penalty but that was countered by Wisniewski and the referee blew for the break the scores were Lyon 11 Montpellier 13. The first half was fast and furious with some massive hits from both teams; also there were obviously nerves out there as some small and unusual errors by both teams became evident as the game progressed. Montpellier decide to stay on the park at half time, a sight very unusual in this modern day Pro era but the heat had a lot to do with that, the staff made sure that they took on plenty of water to keep them fresh for the second half.
The referee started the second half and it was Lyon who looked the stronger and fresher, they immediately attacked the Montpellier try line throwing everything but the kitchen sink at them. The game was still being played at break neck speed, and 12 mins. into the half Wisniewski added a penalty to take Lyon into the lead for the first time in the game 14-13. Jimmy Nagusa had a try disallowed after a very dubious touchline flag, which did not show any foot or feet in touch on the big screen, and even more curious the referee said scrum, ball for Montpellier. The lead did not last long as Aaron Cruden took his chance with a penalty and regained the lead 14-16 this game was going to the wire, and who would be the stronger and fitter especially in the glorious sunshine could well be the winner. Still Lyon battled with their forwards who were being uplifted by their supporters with calls of LOOOOU (wolf) finally after defending like heroes on their try line, Lyon found the tiniest of holes and Ngatai went over, the extras were added by Wisniewski which gave Lyon the slender lead of 21-16, but that lead could well take them into a Semi vs Clermont next week. The last 10 mins Montpellier tried their hardest but the heat had taken its toll the energy was lacking in these final mins. they had 3 penalty touches and that diseases of all diseases Capt. Puricelli stole them all giving Montpellier no important ball and no chance of scoring. Finally last ruck of the game and Lyon hoofed the ball high into the stands, victory for the home team and a semis vs Clermont in Bordeaux next Sun. Yes for sure there was dejection for Montpellier but last Feb. they were in a place were no one wanted to be and they have pulled themselves out of a massive hole, qualification for Euro Champions Cup next season which is mega important, this will go down as an average season for the boys but putting the pride back into the club after some terrible results earlier in the season has brought the players back together and next season is not that far away for a new campaign. Hopefully lessons will have been learned and considering the nearly disastrous first half of the season, the boys have come back from the dead to finish with pride for their club.
Well deserved holidays are next on the agenda before next pre season training and games are organised. Congratulations to all who made the trip to Lyon supporting the boys, right to the last second of play they were behind the team with their encouragements, this club is slowly gaining in status and will become a great club one day in the in the future.