Friday, 22nd January 2016 @ 22:40
Montpellier secured their place alongside Harlequins in the final eight of the European Challenge Cup following a 42-9 victory in Round 6.
Harlequins will now wait until the conclusion of the Zebre v Gloucester match to see if they will be ranked first or second seeds heading into April’s quarter-finals. Regardless of that result, Harlequins will have a home quarter-final to look forward to.
Hosted at the impressive Altrad Stadium, the respective coaches approached the game differently in terms of their selection.
Harlequins, who had the comfort of a home quarter-final following five bonus point victories in the pool stage, were able to rest a number of senior players, while Montpellier chased their place in the final eight with a near full strength side.
The overall result is perhaps an inaccurate reflection of the match.
Where Harlequins struggled to convert multiple opportunities, Montpellier had little issue. Scoring a crucial try on half time, it swung momentum from an 8-9 Harlequins lead, to a 15-9 deficit at the break.
With 27 points scored in the second half it came mostly as a result of a late Mat Luamanu sin-binning. Having out muscled Harlequins upfront for 80 minutes, three late tries completed the 42-9 victory in front of a passionate French crowd.
Calling upon 14 international players in the matchday 23, Montpellier started brightly, but the Harlequins defence held firm. When Charlie Matthews intercepted possession it led to an early Ben Botica penalty.
The response from the hosts in the 14th minute was well worked. With ample possession in the Harlequins 22, Montpellier stayed patient despite being held over the line. After multiple scrums, the ball found Australian international Jesse Mogg to score.
Both kickers exchanged penalties midway through the first half, but when Ben Botica sliced through the defence, a try looked certain with a three on one against Benjamin Fall.
Getting the pass away, Charlie Walker was unable to gather and the attack, frustratingly, ended.
As the half hour mark passed Botica put Harlequins into an 8-9 lead before putting Walker in space again on the left. The winger chipped ahead but failed to gather his own attack and Montpellier cleared.
Montpellier in comparison took what was offered to them, scoring right on the stroke of half-time. The hosts had a dominant set piece throughout the match and worked up field from the resulting penalties.
With a narrow 8-9 lead in favour of Harlequins, centre Anthony Tuitavake broke clean through the line and despite Ross Chisholm hauling him down, his offload found Wian Liebenberg to score. With the conversion from Demetri Catrakilis, the hosts lead 15-9 at the break.
Montpellier had the early possession and territory of the second half and after being held over the line for a second time, Harlequins won a series of penalties which enabled them to relieve the pressure. Botica had the chance to reduce the deficit with a long range penalty effort, but his effort fell just short.
After a try saving tackle by Marland Yarde, at the expense of him having to leave the field due to injury, it took until the 55th minute for the first score of the second half, Catrakilis converting from another scrum penalty.
Another golden opportunity came for Harlequins in the 55th minute when Harry Sloan punched through a hole and ran clear into the 22. Failing to properly offload to Matt Hopper, Harlequins conceded a scrum and Montpellier cleared their lines from a resulting penalty.
Montpellier’s forward domination continued and disrupted Harlequins on a number of occasions in the latter stages.
Luamanu was shown yellow in the final quarter of the match for entering the side of a maul and when the hosts opted for a scrum, Fijian captain Akapusi Qera picked from the base and replacement scrum-half Nic White scored from the resulting breakdown.
Catrakilis extended the lead with his third penalty before being replaced by Francois Trinh-Duc in the final seven minutes.
Chasing the bonus point try at this point, replacement hooker Charles Geli broke free to score, before Yvan Reilhac scored the fifth. Trinh-Duc converted both attempts to complete the 42-9 victory.