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ACADEMY PLAYERS RISE TO THE OCCASION

Lundi 13 Janvier 2014
Montpellier already eliminated from this season’s H Cup sent a very different team to Ulster for this Pool 5, 5th round fixture they were lying in 3rd place a long way behind Ulster and Leicester, Montpellier’s team was made up of outstanding youth with some experience to carry them through. Escande, Selponi, Artru, De Marco, Berard, Quercy, Leleimalefaga, all have come through the formation school of Montpellier, to see them all playing together at this level is a great recommendation for the club, in today’s Pro rugby, this is a sight that is being seen less and less!!! Ulster on the other hand had selected a very strong team, they are top of Pool 5 but need the points as the visit next week to Leicester will be no walk in the park. The game at Montpellier earlier in the H Cup season was a game of high balls, mostly coming from the boot of Pienaar, tonight’s game will be much of the same with Paddy Jackson at 10 helping with his own boot.
 
Montpellier started the game well, attacked when they could, but defended very well coming up with speed on the Ulster attack, they were rewarded with a first penalty by Eric Escande. 3-0 to the visitors. Montpellier was unlucky to loose Kelian Galletier after only 4 mins. with a bad mouth injury he was replaces by another youngster Fred Quercy. I t was not long before the boot worked for Ulster a Jackson cross kick saw Diack collect near the touch line and crash over, Lucas Dupont could have gone lower with his tackle but high does not do it when confronted by a heavy back line forward.
The Ulster boot continued to give Montpellier problems but most were caught by Anthony Floch or Jonnie Beattie, both doing some sterling work in aerial defence, another boot into the Montpellier 22 gave Ulster their second try a misjudgement by Lucas Dupont gave Pienaar an easy dive over to which he added the extras, light was beginning to show and Ulster had moved ahead 14-3. Montpellier tried many attacks but the Ulster defence was solid, but from an attacking ruck on the 22 Charles Geli broke clear, had a rampant 20mts run went down but the ball came out, first Escande then Robins Tchale-Watchou crashed over for his first ever H Cup try, Escande added the extras and Montpellier were back in the game 14-10. A penalty apiece from Pienarr and Escande and the teams went to the break, a very interesting17-13, unfortunately for Montpellier they had lost the services of Galletier, Selponi and Artru in the first half. This meant Benoit Paillaugue had to play at 10 a position he has not occupied for at least 2 seasons.
 
The second half was fairly even with both teams trying to get their noses in front, but again it was Ulster who scored first, another penalty by Pienaar, then again the boot was working overtime, Escande found himself in no-man’s-land and could not get to the high ball which fell apologetically into the hands of the prop Afoa who cantered over, an easier try would be hard to beat!!! The extras were again added by Pienaar and the gap had widened to 27 – 16, 3 tries to Ulster but H Cup rules demand 4 tries for the attacking bonus point, Ulster did everything possible to pass into the hallowed ground and Montpellier resisted with some great defence, and proved that they are still a side that has a massive future ahead of them. The final whistle was blown by ref Wayne Barnes who had a reasonably good game, giving the Ulster team the 4 points, but will it be enough for them to finish the pool in 1st place? probably not, but they could well still qualify for the quarters as a best placed  2nd .
 
Montpellier played with pride and were always in the game, but another lose is not good for morale, next week the Italians from Trevisse come to town, this will be Montpellier’s final H Cup game this season, a massive win is needed to boost morale and team confidence, as on the horizon awaits Bordeaux then away game at Toulouse and Clermont in the TOP 14, where Montpellier have dropped to a very precarious 7th place, and we all know only the top 6 qualify for the playoffs and H Cup next season, that is if there is going to be the H Cup next season!!! Congratulations must go to the pack and the youngsters, everyone played their part well on a difficult evening a lose that is for sure, but by no means was the display by Montpellier embarrassing!!!
 
Steve Whittell.