Montpellier knockout Toulon in Top 14

Montpellier reached the end of season play-offs for the first time in their history on Saturday and at the same time delivered a hammerblow to big spenders Toulon with an impressive 27-3 win in the final round of Top 14 matches.

Tries by Argentinian wing Martin Moyano – who also kicked five of his seven attempts at goal – Fijian star Timoceli Nagusa and outstanding fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc saw them totally eclipse a Toulon side packed with experienced players such as Jonny Wilkinson and Springbok club captain Joe van Niekerk.

Toulon had started the day in fifth place but the defeat knocked them out of the top six as Montpellier joined Biarritz, last year’s champions Clermont – who were beaten by tabletoppers Toulouse – Castres and Racing-Metro in the play-offs.

Montpellier joint coach Fabien Galthie was in tears after watching his players jubilant celebrations.

“Forgive me but I am a very emotional man,” said the former France captain, who enjoyed success in his first coaching role at Stade Francais.

“It’s an exceptional and historic achievement. It has been against the odds as we were favourites to be relegated but we came in and sorted things out and we won this match deploying our favoured tactic – we believe the best defence is to attack.”

His Toulon counterpart Philippe Saint-Andre said he was disappointed but that he had been surprised his side had stayed in the hunt for the play-offs till the end.

“We didn’t miss out because of this defeat, we lost out because we lost our first two matches,” said the former France wing, who cut his coaching teeth at English side Sale.

“Montpellier were hungrier than us but I have felt all season that our side from last year had more soul and heart, and would fight till the end unlike this one.”

Montpellier surged out of the blocks and scored a try within the opening five minutes as Moyano was on hand to touch down in the corner and then convert the try for a perfect start.

Wilkinson reduced the deficit with a penalty a few minutes later but had a rare miss on the half hour mark as Montpellier held onto their narrow lead, and indeed extended it on the stroke of half-time with a penalty.

Wilkinson was off colour and after failing with a drop goal attempt in the 45th minute he was relaced by veteran Argentinian fly-half Felipe Contepomi whilst controversial Welsh centre Gavin Henson was also sent on.

However, it was Contepomi who gifted Montpellier their second try when his pass was intercepted by France fly-half Trinh-Duc who unselfishly put in a grubber kick which bounced kindly into Fijian tryscoring ace Nagusa’s arms and he made no mistake in outpacing the final Toulon defender to touch down.

Trinh-Duc then deservedly got a try of his own as Contepomi was again at fault, being dispossessed in midfield and allowing the ball to run loose.

Trinh-Duc kicked ahead and had the speed to get to the line first and Moyano converted to spark wild celebrations.

Racing-Metro got off to an even more convincing start to their derby match with Stade Francais, who have seen their previous role as club rugby standardbearers for Paris swept away the past two seasons by their rivals.

Three tries in the opening 20 minutes by Fijian veteran Sireli Bobo, Springbok star Francois Steyn and then young centre Henry Chavancy, who ran the ball in after a brilliant break by Benjamin Fall, were decisive.

Stade, who have at least got a date in the European Challenge final with Harlequins to look forward to, fought back but Racing eased off considerably to end up 29-16 winners, finish second in the table and thereby get a bye into the play-off semi-finals.

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