Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Magic in Montpellier

What a finish.  In the build up to the game the team was challenged to create new memories.  It was challenged to scratch the 7 year itch of losing in France.  It was challenged to go for the win and not be satisfied with a meek losing bonus point.

What a finish.  The team achieved them all in front of a vociferous travelling support, cheering them to (and from) the rafters.  The Montpellier support was very quiet, even by English standards let alone the French measure set by the likes of Clermont and Perpignan. 

In case you live on Mars the final score was 15-14.  The final score was a 79th minute try from Fijian centre Vereniki Goneva with Ryan Lamb getting the pressure conversion.  It was some try and a great example of always playing to the bitter end.

We were going nowhere fast.  Side to side, forwards then backwards.  Matt Smith made a few yards, Niall Morris got caught on the wing and had to throw it back inside.  But we were testing the defence.  Asking questions and probing for answers.

The solution came from Miles Benjamin, bursting through a tackle and feeding Scott Hamilton on the inside to take us into their 22.  Ryan Lamb, on for the injured Flood, went for the trademark floated pass.  Thankfully he held on to it.  He didn’t chip it away; he held on to it and set up the ruck.

Morris was in as first receiver.  He held his man and gave the pass to Slater.  Slater stepped one and drew the other before finding Ayerza.  Ayerza had one man to beat; many props would get white line fever and go for it themselves.  Ayerza had a cool head.  He fixed the man by running at his inside shoulder.  Then late, late, late on he passed.  Too early and Goneva was in touch, too late and he would have be taken himself.

It was perfect.  Goneva was in.  Lamb had the conversion to win it.  It was difficult from out wide.  But Goneva was not finished.  Oh no.  He was aware.  Aware of the essentialness of the conversion.  Aware of the covering defence.  Aware of the Stade Yves du Manoir’s large in goal areas.  He was aware.  He was tap tackled by their last man, but kept the ball up to take it closer to the posts.  Those 10 yards made the kick tricky with the pressure rather than out right hard.  That is a big difference.

The first half was scoreless.  Not try less; completely scoreless, nil all, 0-0.  I can’t recall another 0-0 at half time in my time supporting the Tigers.  Not that it was without incident or chances.  Tigers butchered at least 3 tries, Montpellier roughly the same.  Miles Benjamin was given a yellow card for a block on Benoit Paillaugue.  Montpellier kicked to the corner and blew it.

There is an old Italian idea from Football that the perfect game should end 0-0.  This was the Rugby equivalent.  The defences were suffocating, the break down aptly named and ferocious.  Owens barely penalised the defensives but there was not much to give.

The second half was also a mini classic in its own way.  Tigers had the first chance.  For my money Miles Benjamin scored in the corner.  Flood was holding his hamstring so Bowden played the phase from 10.  He found Ben Youngs back on the inside who passed to Gibson on the charge.  He should have finished it but was agonisingly short.  Very poor back play left Benjamin with a hell of a finish in the corner.  Apparently his toe bounced off the line.  In full pace I couldn’t see it either live or on the replay.  In super slow motion and from one angle you can see that it gets close.

The TV screen lacks perspective and much like the famous Cueto try in 2007 the lack of perspective makes all the difference.  The TV camera doesn’t show all so why pretend it does?  If the touch judge thought it went out then flag it.  If he didn’t then don’t.  He is 1m away with a 20/20 3 dimension view.  He is paid to make decisions.

Tigers were building all the pressure now.  Attacking our own fans they were being roared on by the travelling Leicester fans.  The dam finally burst.  Goneva had made good ground before Ben Youngs found brother Tom on a cracking inside line.  A side step did for the Cameroonian Robins Tchale-Watchou and he was over for the first score.

Montpellier responded immediately.  A kick off straight out was recovered by an almighty shove and a strike against the head.  Tulou burst from the scrum and saw off Ben Youngs.  Waldrom got a hand to Tulou’s pass but all that did was deflect it into Paillaugue’s waiting hands.  He drew the last man and put debutant fly half Selponi in for the try.

Ten minutes later and it was Lucas Dupont crossing for Montpellier’s 2nd try.  Georgian bulldozer Mamuka Gorgodze picked the ball up from inside the ruck and charged for the line.  The referee missed the offside so it was play on; with only one man to beat Montpellier were 14-5 up with 17 minutes to go.

The fans were flat.  We were gutted.  The players were flat.  They were stressed and were arguing on the pitch. 

As ever the scrum was the saviour.  A huge shove in the 71st minute gave Lamb the chance to cut the arrears; a chance to get within a try; a chance to win.  It was a tough one.  45m out, longer on the angle.  It just made it.  By a matter of inches we were back in the game.

Then what a finish.  What a way to scratch that French itch, burning since Bourgoin in 2006.  What a new memory to create.  We’ll be banging on about this one for a while yet.

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