European Rugby Champions Cup: Montpellier hold off Edinburgh onslaught

Magnus Bradbury
Magnus Bradbury crossed the Montpellier line late in the game but his effort was disallowed
Heineken Champions Cup, Pool 5
Montpellier (21) 21
Tries: Immelman, Fall, Ngandebe Cons: Pienaar 3
Edinburgh (10) 15
Tries: McInally, Fife Con: Hickey Pen: Hickey

Edinburgh fell just short of a huge Champions Cup upset and had to settle for a losing bonus point with a narrow defeat by Montpellier in France.

The visitors scored two brilliant tries through Stuart McInally and Dougie Fife and, trailing by six points, Magnus Bradbury had a 70th-minute score disallowed for obstruction.

Henry Immelman, Benjamin Fall and Gabriel Ngandebe scored Montpellier's three first-half tries.

They failed to earn a try bonus point.

In Edinburgh, playing their first Champions Cup game for five seasons, Montpellier clearly saw a juicy opportunity for maximum points. Even without many of his Test heavyweights, Vern Cotter was still able to field a line-up laden with internationals.

Montpellier put two penalties in Ruan Pienaar's range to the corner in the first five minutes and came up with the opening try. Louis Picamoles did the bludgeoning, Pienaar exploded off his left foot to beat Henry Pyrgos, shimmied and released Immelman to score.

The South African converted and already, the prospect of a bruising day in France beckoned for Richard Cockerill and his Champions Cup rookies.

For the next 15 minutes, Edinburgh scarcely touched the ball, never mind got out of their own half. But when their opportunity came, how they took it.

Ngandebe spilled the ball and off Edinburgh went. Viliame Mata thundered between two tacklers and brilliantly flicked the ball on to Grant Gilchrist. The big lock found Simon Hickey, who sent Pyrgos scampering towards the line. Pienaar hauled him down just short, but Fife blasted the Montpellier jackalers off the ball and the arriving McInally scooped it up and plunged over.

It was a stunning score and you could sense the belief it engendered. But having scrapped so hard to draw level, Edinburgh let Montpellier in front again with the softest of tries.

Fall strode through a desperately limp tackle attempt from Blair Kinghorn up the right flank, then held off a similarly feeble effort from Hickey on his way to the line. It was comically easy. Pienaar thumped over the conversion for 14-7.

Edinburgh came back. Then another turnover in the Montpellier 22 and another home try.

Mikheil Nariashvili wrestled the ball clear, and a few phases later, the giant lock Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg was galloping through a horribly exposed Edinburgh defence. The Du Plessis brothers, Bismark and Jannie, rumbled on a little further.

And when the ball reached Pienaar, his towering cross-field kick bamboozled Pyrgos, trotting away in the wrong direction, and landed perfectly for Ngandebe to gather and score.

Pienaar again converted, Hickey knocking over a penalty after Edinburgh went through the phases in the home 22 to cut the half-time deficit to 21-10.

Edinburgh smell blood

Edinburgh began the second period as they'd finished the first - camped on the Montpellier line, unable to cross it. Bismarck du Plessis was sin-binned for killing the ball a metre out. Mata was halted inches short. A five-metre scrum looked for all the world like it would yield a try, but despite reversing at a rate of knots, Montpellier were not penalised. The ball was miscontrolled at the back and Hamish Watson was offside when he tried to ground it.

Having squandered such brilliant field position, Edinburgh scored another peach with Du Plessis' sin-bin period almost up. Ben Toolis cantered through a gap, then Mata spun and wrestled his way clear of two tacklers before another sumptuous off-load put Fife in at the corner.

Jaco van der Walt, on for Hickey, missed the conversion but Edinburgh were back within a score.

Edinburgh smelled blood. They harried Montpellier into errors and cut them open. With 11 minutes remaining, they thought they had floored the French giants.

From a deep kick, Van der Walt scorched through the home chasers, then Kinghorn and Fife barrelled deep into the 22. The line was beckoning, but Bradbury and Simon Berghan, steaming on to the ball, got in each other's way. Bradbury took the pass and went over but Berghan was obstructing the defender. Penalty. No try.

They went again, booting a penalty to the corner and summoning the troops for one last raid. They couldn't do it. A sneaky - and illegal Montpellier - hand swept the ball back from within a ruck. It wasn't spotted by referee Wayne Barnes or any of his colleagues.

Edinburgh were almost dealt the cruellest of blows in the dying embers, Picamoles seizing Sean Kennedy's pass and striding for the line and the bonus point, and only a phenomenal Chris Dean tackle hauling the captain down right on the try-line.

That would have been a brutal finale to an agonising loss. But after a five-year absence, Edinburgh have shown they can live with Europe's big boys.

Chris Dean tackles Louis Picamoles
Chris Dean's tackle on Louis Picamoles ensured Edinburgh held on to their losing bonus point

Teams

Montpellier: Immelman; Fall, Martin, Serfontein, Ngandebe; Pienaar, Sanga; Nariashvili, B Du Plessis, J Du Plessis, Van Rensburg, Willemse, Ouedraogo, Liebenberg, Picamoles (capt).

Replacements: Giudicelli, Fichten, Guillamon, Kornath, Galletier, Tomas, Reilhac, Dumoulin.

Edinburgh: Kinghorn; Graham, Johnstone, Scott, Fife; Hickey, Pyrgos; Dell, McInally (capt), Nel, Toolis, Gilchrist, Bradbury, Watson, Mata.

Replacements: Ford, Sutherland, Berghan, Hamilton, Ritchie, Kennedy, Van der Walt, Dean.

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