MONTPELLIER’S CHRISTMAS BONUS, JUST THE ONE POINT !
This season Montpellier has an away and then home fixtures against both Paris teams, firstly this week-end Racing 92 then on the 28th Stade Francais at home ko.18.00. The clement weather at this festive time of the year will make no difference in Paris as the new Racing Stadium is now an indoor affair with a synthetic pitch which does give fast running rugby but it is also very susceptible to injuries, especially ankles and knees. There have always been some unfestive pleasantries and rivalry between both Presidents and players over the seasons, and it has never been a happy hunting ground for Montpellier, but things can change and just maybe this Saturday afternoon Montpellier could come away with points.
Before the game started, a very poignant homage was given to Ibou Diarra, French International and former player of Castres, who passed away this week, a huge loss, only 36 years old and recently retired from top class rugby, he will be sadly missed. Our deepest condolences to all his family and friends.
Handre Pollard World Cup winner with South Africa will be starting his first game for his new team at no.10 and he will have the young Gela Aprasidze at scrum half, his first start in the TOP 14 for the young Georgian, who has had Euro Cup experience but not the honour of starting in this difficult Championship.
The match started and Montpellier were soon on the back foot, 2 penalties from Machenaud gave Racing a 6-0 lead, which was not really what they needed, and after loosing a touch line throw, Racing attacked and a Russell crosskick provided Dupichot with the perfect chance to go over in the corner with Montpellier’s defence floundering, an excellent conversion from Machenaud gave Racing a 13-0 lead with only 11mins gone. Montpellier hit back straight away, the ever present Anthony Bouthier broke clear and served the young Gela Aprasidze on a platter for him to scamper the last 25 meters and dive over, cracking start for the young Georgian, Christmas fairy tale stuff. Handre Pollard scored his first points of his new TOP 14 career with the extras 13-7 to Racing. Minutes later a massive hack on by Nicolaas Janse Van Ransburg gave Jan Serfontein the chance to charge, he kicked on again and beat the opposition to the try line with an excellent dive and control, no need for video and the referee awarded the try, Pollard missed the extras but Montpellier were back in the game 13-12. Montpellier were trying their very best, but infringements and some lost line out ball did not help their cause, in the 35 minut Machenaud knocked over another penalty to extend their lead to 16-12. Just before half time a bad clearance kick and Racing returned a classy kick, Ngandebe had no choice but the to run the ball out of play, 5 meters scrum for Racing, the ball came out and Russell gave the perfect flat pass to Vakatawa who from 10 meters out is moreorless unstoppable, he split Pollard and Serfontein and went over under the posts, the extras were added and the players went to the break Racing 23 - Montpellier 12, the boys had got within contention only to let it slip away from them in the final minuts of the first half, socks needed to be pulled up, fewer penalties given away and better touch line techniques needed to be addressed.
Montpellier came out early for the start of the second half, maybe some harsh words from Xavier Garbajosa on his non contentment of the first half performance, eventually Racing appeared and the second half got underway. Pollard hit a penalty for Montpellier to reduce the score to 23-15, but that was quickly reversed by Machenaud to keep some breathing space between the two teams 26-15. Both tams were playing reasonable rugby but every time Montpellier got near they squandered their chances with some basic faults, they did however have another penalty and Pollard obliged to keep Montpellier in the game 26-18. The normal bench changes started to happen and the game became a little hashed, but Anthony Bouthier gave new light and chance for his team Montpellier, he collected a perfect flat pass from Pollard and the hole in the defence appeared, this guy does not need a second chance he split the defence and went on his own under the sticks and 5pts, Pollard added the extras and Montpellier were just one point behind 26-25. Montpellier had few chances to score while Racing did their level best to get over the Montpellier try line, twice they were held up and some great defensive work held strong, Racing did everything possible but were denied anymore tries. Teddy Iribaren who had replaced Machenaud knocked over a last minute penalty to take the final score to 29-25, this gave Montpellier a deserved defensive bonus point but it could have been so much more with maybe a little more luck and certainly less infringements. The halfbacks of Handre Pollard and the young Gela Aprasidze played with passion and spirit, the front row did have their problems throughout the game and the lineout’s need some extensive work before the visit of Stade Francais next Saturday, but as they say a point in Paris is always better than none, but it will not make Christmas that merry, it could have been so much more.
Stade Francais are struggling this season and are supporting the other 13 teams on their shoulders as they lie 14th and could well be playing Pro D2 next season if they do not get a grip so nothing less than a bonus point victory is required. Before next Saturdays game there is a little something on the 25th , the club and myself wish a very Merry Christmas to all, and hopefully Montpellier will finish off 2019 with a resounding win against Stade next Saturday, then we can celebrate the New Year in style.
Resume: Steve Whittell.