Champions Cup: Montpellier advance to quarter-finals despite second leg defeat to Harlequins

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Montpellier reached the Champions Cup quarter-finals with a 60-59 aggregate win over Harlequins despite a 33-20 loss to the Premiership champions at Twickenham Stoop on Saturday.

In a drama-filled encounter, the home side held the upper-hand from the opening minute, when Huw Jones crossed for the first try, but Montpellier stayed in touch throughout and did enough to advance to the last eight.

Harlequins eventually outscored their visitors by five tries to two with Louis Lynagh (2), Alex Dombrandt and Joe Marchant also crossing the whitewash and Marcus Smith succeeded with four conversions.

For Montpellier, Yvan Reilhac and Julien Tisseron scored tries while Louis Foursans-Bourdette slotted two conversions and a penalty and Handre Pollard also succeeded with a three-pointer off the kicking tee.

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Quins’ England fly-half Smith suffered some misery as he drifted a straightforward conversion attempt of Lyangh’s 75th-minute try wide, and Montpellier held on during the game’s closing stages.

The English champions, 14 points adrift after last weekend’s first leg when they trailed 34-0 at one stage, looked on course to secure a European last-eight spot for the first time since since 2013.

They needed to evoke memories of last season’s stunning Premiership play-off victory over Bristol, when Quins were 28 points down before winning after extra time.

Quins showed a solitary change from last weekend’s defeat, with flanker Will Evans preferred to Tom Lawday in the back-row.

Montpellier boss Philippe Saint-Andre, though, made 13 switches, including South Africa’s World Cup-winning fly-half Pollard lining up at inside centre and former Bath number eight Zach Mercer – a two-try performer six days ago – on the bench.

It took Quins just 33 seconds to open their account as they struck from a first visit to Montpellier’s 22.

Dombrandt surged through a huge gap in the Montpellier defence, and his pass sent an unmarked Jones sprinting over for a try that Smith converted.

Pollard missed a long-range penalty chance to open Montpellier’s account, but the visitors were level after 11 minutes when Foursans-Bourdette’s sharp break was rewarded by a strong finish from Reilhac.

Pollard’s conversion tied things up, only for Quins to score from their next attack as quickly recycled possession produced enough space for a Dombrandt try, again converted by Smith.

Montpellier stayed firmly in the contest, though, and a Forsans penalty cut their deficit midway through the second quarter and underlined the size of Quins’ task.

Quins then scored a stunning third try after length-of-the-field move started by Smith.

He could have taken a safe option of kicking to touch, but he opted to run instead, before sending wing Cadan Murley clear, and he delivered a scoring pass that Marchant gratefully accepted.

Smith again added the extras as Quins looked to take charge, yet Montpellier hit back eight minutes before half-time when Tisseron touched down following more impressive work by Foursans, who added the conversion and made it 21-17.

But a breathless first half had one more try to deliver, and it was Quins who pounced for a fourth time.

A strong attacking scrum provided exactly the platform they required and Lynagh scored in the corner, with Smith’s touchline conversion putting Quins 11 points ahead at the interval.

Quins could not add to their tally in the third quarter, and a Pollard penalty meant that Montpellier had a six-point aggregate advantage with 25 minutes left.

But Quins laid siege to the Montpellier line during a spell of concerted scrum pressure as a pulsating encounter entered its final instalment.

Referee Mike Adamson was lenient on the French side, opting not to show a yellow card despite them conceding eight successive, but his patience then snapped and replacement hooker Jeremie Maurouard was sin-binned.

Smith then pounced for what appeared to be Quins’ fifth try, but Jones was penalised for crossing, and Montpellier escaped as the clock ticked down.

Lynagh then sent the crowd wild when he claimed his second try five minutes from time, but Smith’s missed conversion meant that Montpellier prevailed.

READ MORE: Champions Cup: James Lowe scores four as dominant Leinster reach quarter-finals after thrashing Connacht

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