Ruan Pienaar kicked 17 points as Montpellier thrashed Lyon 40-14 in their French Top 14 semi-final on Friday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Montpellier will now contest the Bouclier de Brennus against the winners of Saturday’s semi-final between Racing 92 and Castres.
The result served as a reminder of why this Saffa-laden team had not been outside of the top two on the log since round 14.
From an individual perspective, there were statement performances from Pienaar, Frans Steyn and Bismarck du Plessis. With Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus set to announce his squad for the upcoming Tests against Wales and England, the trio sent out timely reminders of the value and experience they can still add to the national side.
Despite Aaron Cruden playing flyhalf for Montpellier, Pienaar marshalled their attack well and was flawless off the kicking tee, with seven successful attempts at goal; Steyn – full of running – emerged as the biggest attacking threat against Lyon’s fragile defence; and Du Plessis executed his core responsibilities at the lineouts and scrums to perfection, while also constantly troubling Lyon at the breakdown.
Three penalties – two regulation efforts close to the posts by Pienaar and a long-range, angled attempt by Steyn – gave the visitors a 9-6 lead in the opening quarter of the match. Former Wallabies flyhalf Mike Harris accounted for Lyon’s points.
Nemani Nadolo then pulled off a world-class finish in the right corner after an exquisite chip kick by Pienaar was collected by Jesse Mogg to get Montpellier on the front foot.
Harris pulled three points back with a third penalty, but the hosts’ already slim chances of launching a comeback were diminished when flank Liam Gill was yellow-carded for deliberately slowing the ball down 3m out from his own tryline after yet another dazzling run by Steyn left the defence in disarray.
With Gill still making his way off the field, Pienaar caught Lyon napping as he took a quick tap and passed to Cruden on his inside to carry the ball up. From the ensuing ruck, Pienaar switched play to the other side, where he put centre Alexandre Dumoulin through a half-gap to score. The successful conversion meant Montpellier led 23-9 at the break.
Things went from bad to worse for Lyon after the resumption. After winning a penalty for completely demolishing their opponents in a scrum, Montpellier captain Louis Picamoles took it quickly and shrugged off two tacklers as he slid over to score their third try.
Although the points dried up between minutes 48 and 72, Paul Willemse was next to score, screaming with delight.
Harris, Lyon’s standout performer on the night, went over for a consolation try, but replacement Frederick Michalak missed the conversion, which was his last-ever attempt off the tee in professional rugby as his retirement come into effect following Lyon’s exit.
Montpellier – Tries: Nemani Nadolo, Alexandre Dumoulin, Louis Picamoles, Paul Willemse. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar (4). Penalties: Pienaar (3), Frans Steyn.
Lyon – Try: Mike Harris. Penalty: Harris (3).
Montpellier – 15 Jesse Mogg, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Frans Steyn, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Nemani Nadolo, 10 Aaron Cruden, 9 Ruan Pienaar, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Quedraogo, 6 Kelian Galletier, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg, 3 Jannie du Plessis, 2 Bismarck du Plessis, 1 Mikheli Nariashvili.
Subs: 16 Vincent Guidicelli, 17 Gregory Fichten, 18 Jarrad Hoeata, 19 Julien Bardy, 20 Eno Sanga, 21 Henry Immelman, 22 Joe Tomane, 23 Davit Kubriashvili.
Lyon – 15 Toby Arnold, 14 Xavier Mignot, 13 Rudi Wolf, 12 Thibaut Regard, 11 Alexis Palisson, 10 Mike Harris, 9 Jonathan Pelissie, 8 Tai Tuifau, 7 Liam Gill, 6 Julien Puricelli, 5 Hendrik Roodt, 4 Felix Lambey, 3 Francisco Gomez-Kodela, 2 Mickael Ivadi, 1 Stephane Clement.
Subs: 16 Virgile Lacombe, 17 Alexandre Menini, 18 Francois van der Merwe, 19 Etienne Oosthuizen, 20 Baptiste Couilloud, 21 Dylan Cretin, 22 Frederick Michalak, 23 Richard Choirat.
Photo: Alexandre Dimou/Getty Images