Two points better than none in Mayol !
The World Cup players are all back bar two, and the coaches have a now a difficult choice for their team selection. Montpellier are just lacking Francois Steyn and Handre Pollard our newest South African signing. It must also be mentioned that Francois Steyn has joined a very elite post as only the second South African ever to have 2 World Cup winners medals, he joins Os du Randt in this very elite group, congratulations Francois.
Saturday and Montpellier were away to Toulon in Mayol, never a great hunting ground for Montpellier. We did win last season for the very first time, so was everyone expecting a second win? New face on the block for Montpellier was French captain Guirado, who had his first game for his new club against his old club Toulon, never the easiest of tasks as he was there for 5 seasons. While most of these weekends’ games were played under torrential rain, Toulon was fine and dry with a strong wind blowing, the crowd 14,336 and as always very much behind the home team Toulon.
Montpellier had to defend for great portions of this game but they did it well. But the indiscipline did not help their cause, giving away a match total of 14 penalties, which is far too many, the number has to come below 10 to give them any chance of bringing home points, away from home. They did how ever take the lead with a thumping penalty kick from Henri Immelman about 54 mts out and in his own half, it looks like Montpellier have someone who can equal Francois Steyn in the long range kicking stats. 0-3 for the boys.
Penalties were exchanged throughout this game and the score was never more than three points difference until the 60th minute. The first 40 mins, Montpellier had their moments but small errors stopped them in their tracks, but as they had very little ball to play with they did well when they had it. Belleau had 3 and Cruden one in the first half making the score 9-6 after the first 40mins. all to play for and Montpellier were very much in this game.
The second half opened up a little more and gaps were beginning to appear in the defences, first on the scoreboard were Toulon, they kept the ball for a long moment using their pack, camping on the Montpellier 5 meters line and eventually Webb sold an enormous dummy pass and dived over next to one of the sticks, Belleau added the extras and Toulon had a little light between the two teams the score moving on to 16-6.
This did not stop Montpellier. Cruden added 3pts. and from the kick off Montpellier attacked the Toulon try line, they came close on a couple of occasions but just fell short at the last hurdle, letting Toulon clear their line. The ball was collected by Louis Picamoles who served Arthur Vincent, he in turn spotted the gap and accelerated through it, leaving the Toulon defence clutching at thin air, with Anthony Bouthier on his side he drew the last defence of Toulon and gifted the perfect pass to his team mate who had a 30mts run in under the sticks, Aaron Cruden added the extras and the teams were level at 16 apiece.
17 mins. left on the clock and Montpellier looked the stronger of the two teams, they got another penalty for a very dubious high tackle on Benoit Paillaugue the ref for once being generous to Montpellier this got their noses in front 16-19, but that bad discipline crept in again for Montpellier and Belleau did not miss from in front of the sticks 19-19.
With just 9 mins left on the clock could Montpellier come away with 4pts they tried their hardest and had Toulon under the cloche, but they could not quite make that last score. They did get a penalty right on full time but there was a small meeting of handbags, nothing out of the ordinary for a game of this intensity, but after video Louis Picamoles caressed the chin of a Toulon forward who was trying his best to disturb our captain. The ref thought different and reversed the penalty, there was nothing there that you don’t see week in week out in the TOP 14. I’ve seen more violent teddy bears non alcoholic picnics than the Picamoles pat on the chin, but the man in the middle saw it differently. The ball went out of play and Montpellier got their 2 pts for the draw, it could have been more but it was not and there are plenty of teams who will leave Toulon this season with nothing !
Once again the discipline count was too high but Montpellier played with spirit and intensity, defended well, stole some lineout ball which is always beneficial, and the scrum rocked at times but was reasonably solid. Everybody stuck to their tasks and Arthur Vincent and Nico Van Rensburg were among the best for Montpellier so all in all 2pts is always better than none in Mayol.
Next week the European Champions Cup gets under way with a visit to the Emerald Isle to play Connaught, known for its wet and windy climate this will be a test for our boys as the Med sunshine will not be present!!! Woolly jumpers, scarfs, and bonnets are in order and the three quarters could well freeze their behinds off, by no means the most engaging and welcoming place to play rugby.