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Defence and a little magic !

Le 11 septembre 2017

After 2 home wins and maximum points, Montpellier had the very difficult task of an away game at the newly named Pierre Fabre Stadium where Montpellier have lost more times than are countable Their arch enemy Castres are a very tough and able team to out manoeuvre visitors especially at home. Canal + sport Saturday evening’s Gala game, the first of the season for Montpellier and high expectations, after a great start to the new season but no walk in the park. The weather was atrocious after the very hot and dry summer the heavens had opened and a deluge was falling on Castres, this was going to be a very tough evening for ball skills.

Vern Cotter has once again blooded some new and older players, Julien Bardy starting for the first time this season along with Charles Geli, and new kid on the block Thomas Darmon the very young International under20’s fly half a very first start for this promising 19 year old, a massive first appearance. But he has the experience of Ruan Pienaar at scrum half and n°8 Louis Picamoles next to him so he is far from alone, but this was still a huge test for the youngster, there are not many 19 year olds who get this chance, so best of luck to him.

The first half was all Castres and Montpellier had to be content with an awful lot of defending, the secure boot of Ruan Pienaar kept the visitors in touch with the score. The scrums were disastrous with the Montpellier front five in reverse gear and Louis Picamoles having great difficulty trying to get clean and healthy ball back into the hands of Ruan Pienaar. The line outs were not much better and all in all Montpellier rarely entered the Castres 22m line, but they did defend like demented lions. Penalties were exchanged in the first 20 minutes, 2 for Pienaar and the same for Urdapilleta, but both he and Kockott missed a couple of really easy penalties which might cost Castres dearly later on. On the stroke of 30 minutes the inevitable had to happen. After defending on their line for what seemed like ages, clean ball for Castres after a missed touch from Pienaar, the ball flew through the three quarters for Dumora to dive over in the corner, the conversion was missed 11- 6 for the hosts. On the siren, Pienaar added another 3 points and Montpellier were still in touch after 40 minutes.  Half time Castres 11 - Montpellier 9.

The second half saw immediate changes, Francois Steyn for the youngster Thomas Darmon, Bismarck Du Plessis and Misha Nariashvili to shore up that problem scrum which it did almost straight away, and Francois Steyn started to use his massive boot in the difficult conditions trying to get Castres on the back foot. Slowly Montpellier were back in the game, line outs secured, scrums giving Picamoles the chance to pick and go on numerous occasions with clean and well won ball. Penalties were again exchanged and for nearly 3 minutes. Montpellier had the lead a very slender 11-12, but again infringements cost Montpellier that lead and with just 8 minutes. On the clock Castres had their noses in front 17-15.

In the 72nd minute, the ball came out to Francois Steyn who attacked the line kept his arms and ball free in the tackle to give Henry Immelman the perfect pass who then threw a massive missed pass to Nemsie Nadolo. Two defenders to beat and 40 meters to the line, acceleration by the big man and the rest was history, the two defenders dumped unceremoniously to the ground and Nemsie was over in the corner. The extras were added by Mon 100% Pienaar, and Montpellier in the lead 17-22. Unfortunately for Castres, Dumora gave his all trying to tackle Nadolo and finished leaving the park on a stretcher the big man takes no prisoners when he gets his chance. Just 6 minutes for Montpellier to hold out and they did this with super human defending everyone tackled like demons, Castres could not break the defence and finally the ref blew for full time and an excellent first away match and first away win of the season for Montpellier in very difficult circumstances.

Final score Castres 17 Montpellier 22.

The first 40 minutes were very tough for Montpellier but they held to their task which was non stop defending, Pienaar keeping them in touch with his immaculate boot 6 from 6. The second half saw a better front five and Francois Steyn controlled the game from fly half, but compliments to the young Darmon who did himself no harm with ball in hand and some good running, while his defence was solid. Henry Immelman was my Man of the Match with excellent ball fielding from the continual up and unders, and his defence and attack excellent, his best match so far this season. Bismarck showed why he has a World Cup winning medal, always 100%. There were mistakes and nothing is ever perfect, but Castres are a very solid and aggressive team especially their pack, who dominated the first 40. Montpellier stuck to their task and never gave up and not many teams will take 4 points away from Pierre Fabre this season.

Bravo and move on, no time to celebrate, next week home to Toulon and a certain Fabien Galthié now in charge of Toulon. KO. Sunday 16.50 hopefully a massive crowd to get behind top of the table Montpellier, 3 games 3 wins 2 with bonus points. Not too shabby a start, to the new season.