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Montpellier dealt the cruelest of blows

Le 22 octobre 2018

Second week of Champions Cup and the opposition Newcastle Falcons in the cold far North of England. The weather was just perfect for this region, drizzle, fog, mist, and plenty of wind in a stadium completely open to the elements and nowhere to be seen the warm Med sunshine.  The boys are a tough bunch but they are certainly not used to this wet, windy and cold climate.

The first half was very sterile for Montpellier seeing very little ball and the few occasions that they did have it was not used well and most of the attacks fizzled out to not much at all. Newcastle did throw the ball about and kept it under guard for long periods of time they went ahead with a penalty followed by a fine attacking try, Green broke the defensive line and gave the perfect ball to Graham who went over unopposed, the extras were added by Hodgson. 10-0 to the Falcons. Montpellier had 2 penalties given for infringements and Pienaar sent the ball high over the sticks for the 6 pts and Montpellier had only a 4 points deficit. Most of the play was being played in the Montpellier half and they had to defend for long periods of time, and of course when you are continually defending the errors creep in and Hodgson profited twice before half time to give the home side the lead at the break : Newcastle 16 Montpellier 6.

The second half was much more inspiring for Montpellier and they started to play some better rugby, although they still defended for long periods of time, their attack gained ground and they got themselves into contention. Pienaar added another 2 penalties to move the score onto 16-12, but the boys looked much more alert in their attack and after the ref gave them a penalty which was kicked into touch instead of the 3pts, the ball was gathered from the line out and an excellent maul was formed seeing Paul Willemse go over in force and the first try of the game for Montpellier, the extras were missed but Montpellier had their noses in front for the first time in the game 16-17. Minutes later Pienaar added another penalty to give Montpellier a 4pts lead with only 7 mins. left on the clock. From the kick off the ball was collected and Montpellier tried to keep it under their shirts for the remaining minutes left on the clock, a penalty against them saw the ball sent down into the Montpellier 22, from the line out the Newcastle forwards made good use of the ball and started a series of pick and goes, could the Montpellier defence keep them out for the remaining 2 mins. left on the clock, the siren sounded and the Falcons still had the ball. The minutes past and Newcastle never gave up, pick and goes one after the other, absolutely no mistakes so the game continues, around thirty odd phases later the Falcons finally squeezed over the line for their try scored by Chick in the 89th min.

Of course there was joy for Newcastle winning the game by the narrowest of margins but the blow it dealt to Montpellier was as cruel as the highest mountains, and you could see the desolation on the faces of the players... They had given so much in those 9 mins. of extra play, but his is sport and you play till the very final whistle and never give up, Newcastle were relentless and were given the bonus which if the truth is known they probably deserved it. Montpellier are by no means out of this competition but it will not be plain sailing to qualify for the quarters, the chances of a 2nd place qualifier are not great so the remainder of the games need to be won, twice against Toulon and home and away to first Newcastle in January before the last game away in Edinburgh, a very tall task to ask but not impossible.

Next week back to the TOP 14 with a trip to Stade Francais who are playing well this season under new finances and direction, another difficult game for the boys but they need to get the confidence back quickly after this enormous slap in the face by the Falcons.

Steve Whittell.