Le 28 mai 2018

Finishing in top spot in this season’s TOP 14 Championship gave Montpellier the right to the Friday evening semi final and their opponents was Lyon, who the previous week had gone to Toulon and beaten a very good Toulon team after extra time, the scores level at 19 apiece but Lyon having scored 2 tries to Toulon’s one. The question was had this very tough and physical game left Lyon with a half empty tank and just maybe they would be running on empty before the end of the semi vs Montpellier. The Semi’s were  played at the Groupama Stadium Lyon, where Montpellier had a 100% record, played one won one, (Challenge Cup final 2016 v Harlequins) whereas Lyon had never played there, as they now occupy the Stadium left by the footie’s, who now play at the Groupama. The match was played in front a very noisy and atmospheric 58,664 supporters, 2 thousand more than the other semi game the following day, Racing vs Castres.

The game started by referee Pascal Gauzere was pace, strength, and adrenalin, both teams wanting that Grand Final place in Paris the following week. Penalties were exchanged in the first 23 mins. giving Montpellier a slender lead from the boot of  Ruan Pienaar, twice, and a massive 55mts penalty from Francois Steyn which sailed over with hardly any effect from the Sud AF,  Harris slotting two for Lyon, 9-6, but the exchanges were brutal and the question was could Lyon last the full 80mins. The first try of the game came from a Montpellier attack Alex Dumoulin threw a long pass out to Nemsie Nadolo who did his usual, collect and crash over with 2 Lyon defenders hanging on for dear life but with no effect, Ruan Pienaar added the extras with a magnificent conversion from the touch line 16-6 to Montpellier. Harris added a penalty after Paul Willemse was caught wandering offside, 16-9. Just before half time, Montpellier attacked once more and after some excellent rucking the ball came out from Pienaar to Dumoulin who used his strength to crash over taking 3 defenders with him as he landed in the promised land, again Ruan Pienaar added the extras and the light in the tunnel grew brighter, 23-9, the whistle followed for half time, and one thinks that Vern Cotter would be giving an encouraging half time talk, as the game plan set by him and his staff was being executed to near perfection.

The second half started and Montpellier kept the score board moving, in the 42min. Lyon were caught infringing and from 52mts Ruan Pienaar stroked the ball over between the uprights, 26-9. Montpellier were on top and Lyon looked to be flagging the pace of last weeks game was starting to show, the tank would soon be registering empty and this was starting to cause all sorts of problems for Lyon. Louis Picamoles took a quick tap penalty from 10mts. out and crashed over, unstoppable from that distance again Ruan Pienaar added the extras and Montpellier were moreorless home and dry 33-9. Paul Willemse was the next to bring the 40pts up, a maul just inside the Lyon 22 from a penalty touch kick, the ball was collect and the march forward was ignited, slowly but surely the progression was nearing the Lyon try line and 10mts out, Paul Willemse broke clear and crashed over, his joy everyone heard as he bellowed his enthusiasm on scoring, once again Mon 100% Ruan Pienaar added the extras 40-9, game, set, and match to Montpellier. Lyon did get their consolation try in the last couple of mins. from Harris, the conversion was missed, the final score Montpellier 40 Lyon 14.

Montpellier gave a massive team effort for this game, everyone did their duty and no one shirked anything, the defence was monstrous and scoring 40pts. in a semi up until now is unheard of, the  credits go to all 23 players on that team sheet, the coaching and preparation staff, and of course the supporters who never stopped believing. The 3 week lay off did everything it should have done in terms of preparation, lots were saying that no game time could be dangerous for the boys but this was not the case, Vern Cotter brought the boys down to a good level for the first 2 weeks, before getting the them motivated and where they should be in the last week before the semi, they where ready and everyone present could see they were ready, now all he has to do is get them to the same level this week for Saturday’s Paris final, which he will do.

Montpellier are now in their second TOP 14 Grand Final, the first they lost in 2011 to Toulouse, their opponents next Saturday will be Castres who knocked out Racing 92. One more game to win for the coveted Bouclier de Brennus, but this is Castres  3rd final in the last 5 years and it will be no walk over. 1st, we have beaten Castres twice this season it means nothing. 2nd, Castres are a great final team, (3rd final in the last 5years) this means everything, respect must be given to them. 3rd, some players never play a TOP 14 Final this is a privilege, courage, humility in every sense. 4th To win that Bouclier, blood, guts, courage and tears will be needed, and when there is nothing left in the tank finding more blood, guts, courage and tears will be necessary. This is a chance that every player dreams of, take it with both hands and bring that Bouclier back to Montpellier everyone is behind you !!! 

Steve Whittell.