Demetri Catrakilis contributed 16 points as Montpellier recorded a 26-19 win over Harlequins in the European Challenge Cup final in Lyon on Friday. CRAIG LEWIS reports.
Jake White and his South African-laden side can take a bow. Having qualified for their first ever European final, Montpellier were simply far too strong for Harlequins on the night. Dominant at scrum time, cohesive on the drive, industrious at the breakdown and physical on defence, Montpellier clinically went about dismantling a Harlequins side that couldn't match their opponents up front.
Catrakilis produced a flawless performance from the kicking tee, while Bismarck du Plessis was a force of nature at the breakdown, with Montpellier building their win on an accurate kicking display and ferocious physicality in the forward exchanges.
The opening quarter was an understandably cagey affair as both teams sought to settle into their stride, but a couple of early errors from Montpellier provided Harlequins with the opportunity to open the scoring with a fifth-minute penalty to flyhalf Nick Evans.
However, Montpellier gradually began to assert their physicality at the set pieces and breakdown, while Catrakilis was able to cash in on a penalty won at scrum time to draw the scores level.
With few clear-cut opportunities early on, something special was needed to crack open the defence, and it came from big South African lock Paul Willemse, who produced a barnstorming break from the halfway line. The ball was recycled and Frans Steyn sent out a beautiful long pass to create the space for Jesse Mogg to be put away for the first try of the night.
Catrakilis slotted another penalty soon after to edge Montpellier into a handy 10-point lead on the half-hour mark, but their discipline then let them down during the latter stages of the first half and Evans knocked over two more penalties to reduce the deficit to just four points at the break.
It threatened to signify a momentum shift, and the break undoubtedly came at a good time in order to enable Jake White to have a few words with his Montpellier charges, and they came out with real purpose in the second half.
After an extended period of pressure from Montpellier, replacement scrumhalf Benoît Paillaugue produced a moment of magic as he executed a pinpoint cross kick that Mogg expertly fielded before dotting down to score his second try. Catrakilis impressively slotted the touchline conversion and then converted his third penalty soon after to hand his side a commanding 23-9 lead with 25 minutes left to play.
The former Stormers and Kings flyhalf edged Montpellier further ahead with a fourth three-pointer in the 68th minute, but Harlequins threatened to make it a nervy finish when wing Marland Yarde went over to score and help reduce the deficit to 10 points with seven minutes still to play.
Ben Botica then slotted a 78th-minute penalty to make it a seven-point ball game, but Montpellier held on for a historic victory.
Montpellier – Tries: Jesse Mogg (2). Conversions: Demetri Catrakilis (2). Penalties: Catrakilis (4).
Harlequins – Try: Marland Yarde. Conversion: Ben Botica. Penalties: Nick Evans (3), Botica.
Montpellier – 15 Benjamin Fall, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Anthony Tuitavke, 12 Frans Steyn, 11 Marvin O’Connor, 10 Demetri Catrakilis, 9 Nic White, 8 Pierre Spies, 7 Akapusi Qera, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Jacques du Plessis, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Mikheil Nariashvili.
Subs: 16 Mickael Ivaldi, 17 Yvan Watremez, 18 Davit Kubriashvili, 19 Sitaleki Timani, 20 Kelian Galletier, 21 Benoît Paillaugue, 22 Robert Ebersohn, 23 Jesse Mogg.
Harlequins – 15 Mike Brown, 14 Marland Yarde, 13 George Lowe, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tim Visser, 10 Nick Evans, 9 Danny Care (c), 8 Nick Easter, 7 Luke Wallace, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Sam Twomey, 4 James Horwill, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Joe Gray, 1 Joe Marler.
Subs: 16 Dave Ward, 17 Mark Lambert, 18 Kyle Sinckler, 19 Mat Luamanu, 20 Jack Clifford, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Ben Botica, 23 Ross Chisholm.
Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP Photo