In a nail-biting finish in Montpellier, les Ciel et Blanc caused the sensation of the opening round of the TOP 14, beating a depleted Montpellier with a huge scrum effort, and a Jonny Sexton penalty in the 77th minute. (Credit photo : Pascal Rodriguez)
There were only three minutes left to play when the Ciel et Blanc were awarded a scrum just inside the opposition half. After a stunning second-half performance following the red card to their hooker Charles Géli just before half-time, Montpellier had fought their way back to 16-16.
But in only the third scrum of the second half, the Ciel et Blanc forwards, lead by skipper François van der Merwe, produced a match-winning effort, shunting the locals off the ball, and forcing the referee to award a penalty to Racing Metro 92.
Up stepped Jonny Sexton, 46 metres out from the posts, and as he had done all through the game, the Irish goal-kicker once again sent the ball sailing high above the cross-bar. The scoreboard showed 19-16 to the Ciel et Blanc, a far cry from the 44-10 humiliation here only three months ago, and despite a last-ditch attack by Timoci Nagusa, the Racingmen held out to the end.
“Despite the red card, we did everything we could to let Montpellier back in to the game,” said coach Laurent Labit. “They nearly embarrassed us, we gave them too much ball to play with in the second half. But we held out and in the end it was a great effort to win this game.”
The Ciel et Blanc got off to a fiery start, with several dangerous moves deep in the opposition 22 in the opening minutes. Virgile Lacombe, Henry Chavancy and Jonny Sexton all had the alarm bells ringing in the Montpellier defence, but somehow the locals managed to hold them out.
It took another twenty minutes for it to come to fruition, but the ability of the Ciel et Blanc to find holes in the opposition defence was clear to see. And it was a scintillating run from young centre Alex Dumoulin which enabled Racing to open the scoring.
Receiving the ball some 30 metres from the goal-line, Dumoulin used all his skill, his side-step and his pace, beating three would-be tacklers to score a superb individual try under the posts. Jonny Sexton converted and the Racingmen went into the lead 7-0.
The Racingmen still lead 7-3 at half-time, thanks to a couple of missed penalties by François Trinh-Duc, but it seemed as if the sending off of Géli after yet another skirmish, would be the turning point of the game.
However, with nothing left to lose, Montpellier came out firing in the second half, using the strike power of their wingers Nagusa and Ranger. Two penalties to Trinh-Duc saw the locals edge ahead for the first time after 49 minutes, but a huge field goal by Johan Goosen, from 53 metres out, saw the Ciel et Blanc again take the lead at 10-9, then 13-9 after a Sexton penalty.
But Montpellier continued to attack, and in the 65th minute Nagusa powered over for a try after an incredible sequence of play from the Héraultais. 16-13 to Montpellier, but their lead was short-lived, as with seven minutes to go, Sexton kicked a further penalty, before the match-winning effort four minutes later.
“We are happy with the win, but if we want to play a leading role in this TOP 14 we will have to show more control in our game, especially when the opposition is down to 14 men for the second-half !” concluded Labit.
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