Le 20 janvier 2020

The very last pool game this season’s Champions Cup and the visitors were Connacht, both teams had the honour of trying not to finish bottom of pool 5.The campaign was well and truly over before the match even kicked off, but there is always PRIDE and PASSION, when qualification has already been thrown out of the window. Both teams fielded fairly strong selections knowing that there was something to play for if it was only the victory. Jacques De Plessis was unavailable after a training mishap and Fulgence Ouedraogo was drafted in from the bench with Martin Devergie replacing him on the bench.

The game started with Montpellier meaning business, from the off they attacked as though this match had become extremely important and it was not long before there were on the scoreboard. Massive pressure on the Connacht try line and finally it was Leven Chilachava who went over; the extras were added by Handre Pollard, 7-0 to the hosts. A couple of Gaby Ngandebe tries quickly followed, one which was an absolute classic, where he spelled the opposition with his magic feet, going one way then the other, leaving the Connacht defence clutching at empty spaces that he had left in his wake, both were converted by Handre Pollard and the score after only 30 minuts was 21-0. What happened in the remaining 10 minuts of the first half was quite catastrophic, the boys seemed to have thought the game was dusted and all over, but no Connacht as they have done with many upped a gear with that famous “Irish Fighting Spirit” and scored 3 tries in the last 10 minuts of the first half, first it was Healy then Porch and finally Marmion all converted by Jack Carty. The magical 21-0 lead was reduced 21-21 when the referee blew for the break, Coach Garbajosa was probably not in the best of moods going in for his half time speech but the neutrals in the Stadium were getting value for their money with a 6 try first half.

The second half got under way and after the break the try scoring did not stop, this time it was Connacht with a try by Goodwin in the 43rd minut, the extras were missed by Carty but they had the lead for the first time in the game 21-26. Montpellier knew they had to hit back and from the kick off they were on the attack and after a cross kick and a bounce which favoured Yvan Reilhac who then scampered under the sticks for a fine try, again Pollard did not miss and Montpellier were back in front 28-26. This score was again short lived as Carty knocked over a penalty to give Connacht the lead 28-29 with just 15 minuts on the clock. Montpellier were down but not out and they attacked with fury during the last 15minuts and with just 4minuts left on the clock, it was again Yvan Reilhac who went over for his second, hopefully the winning try, again the boot of Pollard was secure and the extras were added, 35-29. From the kick off Nico Van Rensburg went for the ball but collided with one of the opposition and the referee decided on a yellow card, the incident was more accidental than vicious, he was very unlucky, Montpellier down to 14 and from the penalty Connacht found touch just 5minuts from the home try line. Just 3 minuts on the clock and Connacht went all out to score, a converted try would give then a last minut victory and they had several chances but Montpellier defended like a Pride of Lions keeping the Irish out. Finally there was an infringement and the referee blew for full time giving Montpellier a narrow but deserved victory.

Team building and pride for the shirt do not come overnight, Xavier Garbajosa is building for the future and given the chance he will be successful, but he needs time and the full attention of his coaches and squad of players to achieve this, today everyone present saw that this is possible, a match where pride was the only result possible from a dead rubber game, shows how the boys battled to victory in a very tricky situation. The game was a long way from perfect, defensive errors was made in the last 15minuts of the first half but the boys showed guts courage and pride to make sure that when the referee blew for full time they had more points than the opposition and thus taking 3rd place in the pool which is always better then being last. This needs to be relived next week when Montpellier go to La Rochelle where they have never won, but there is always a first time for everything !!!

Steve Whittell.