Top 14: Montpellier claim first French championship with dominant victory over Castres

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 Credit: PA Images
Credit: PA Images

Montpellier made history by securing their first top-tier domestic title following a superb 29-10 victory over Castres in the Top 14 final at the Stade de France on Friday.

Philippe Saint-Andre’s outfit set the tone in the opening 20 minutes and utterly dominated, scoring three tries.

They were eventually 20 points ahead by the interval as Arthur Vincent, Florian Verhaeghe and Anthony Bouthier all touched down, with Benoit Paillaugue adding a conversion and two penalties.

Castres‘ only response in the first period came via the boot of Julien Dumora as they struggled to break down their opponents’ excellent defence.

They battled hard in the second half but it was to no avail and they failed to breach the whitewash until very late in the game, despite constant pressure inside the Montpellier 22.

Instead, it was the team that finished the regular season in second position that added to their tally when Paolo Garbisi bisected the uprights.

Castres did score a consolation through Vilimoni Botitu but Montpellier deservedly had the final word via Handre Pollard’s late penalty.

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Castres may have finished at the league’s summit and ended Toulouse’s Top 14 defence in the semi-finals, but Montpellier were favourites going into the showpiece event and they showed why early on.

Pierre-Henry Broncan’s men had started well, threatening through their Fijian powerhouses Botitu and Filipo Nakosi, but when the latter made an error close to the opposition line it all started to go wrong.

Herault cleared their lines and then took advantage of another mistake to mount their first meaningful attack of the game. They moved the ball down the blindside where Zach Mercer was lurking and the number eight produced a lovely grubber through for Vincent to collect and touch down.

Mercer has enjoyed a fine first season in France and he continued his outstanding start to the final by being a key figure in the next try.

The back-row’s sleight of hand opened the space for Bastien Chalureau to surge through before further off-loads from the lock and Geoffrey Doumayrou took play to within inches of the whitewash.

Castres were under significant pressure and duly folded as Verhaeghe touched down to extend Montpellier’s buffer to 12 points.

Broncan’s charges were struggling in most facets of the game but were particularly fallible at the lineout and another botched set-piece allowed that man Mercer to burst clear.

With their defence in disarray, Montpellier shifted the ball right where Vincent’s brilliant reverse pass sent Bouthier over the line to provide them with a comfortable lead.

The only thing that was letting Saint-Andre’s side down was the kicking of the usually reliable Paillaugue, who missed two out of three conversions, but he was on target with a straightforward penalty to take them 20 points clear.

Dumora finally got Castres on the board with a three-pointer but Paillaugue responded with one of his own late in the half to keep Montpellier well in control at the break.

Castres needed a positive start to the second period to get back into the contest, but it failed to materialise. Despite dominating possession and territory, creating a number of opportunities inside the opposition 22, they failed to breach an impressive Montpellier rearguard.

A superb turnover from Yacouba Camara relieved the pressure and took them a step closer towards a first title.

Broncan’s men continued to attack but it was ultimately in vain and when Wayan De Benedittis had a try ruled out, their chances of winning a third championship in nine years was effectively ended.

Even a yellow card for Nico Janse van Rensburg failed to help them and Montpellier instead scored first in the second period through Garbisi’s penalty.

Botitu did touch down for Castres but Pollard rounded off a historic evening for Saint-Andre’s men with a late three-pointer.

READ MORE: Top 14: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde up before the beaks

The article Top 14: Montpellier claim first French championship with dominant victory over Castres appeared first on Planetrugby.com.

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