Tag Archives: Montpellier

Top 14 Preview: Montpellier

montpellier-herault-rugby-logo-3449The History

Montpellier Hérault Rugby is a relatively new club having been formed in 1986, the result of a merger between Stade Montpelliérain and Montpellier Université Club. By 1991, the new outfit had reached the top division of French rugby and in ’93 won their first silverware in the Challenge de l’Espérance. A financial crisis in 1998 saw Montpellier drop to the second division, where they remained until 2003, when Didier Nourault coached the side to a Pro D2 title.

Montpellier have been slowly building ever since. 2007 was a significant year for the club, with Fulgence Ouedraogo becoming their first French international and also a move to the new Stade Yves-du-Manoir. 2011 saw Montpellier reach their first-ever Top 14 final, where they were beaten 15-10 by Toulouse. Another landmark in that season was the arrival of Mohed Altrad as president, a building materials tycoon whose personal fortune totals €600 million.

Last season, Montpellier reached the knock-out stages of the Heineken Cup for the first time in their history. It is a relatively short history, but one which shows consistent progress. The likelihood is that there is more to come.

The Setting

Stade de rugby de montpellier

Stade Yves-du-Manoir, a little big stadium. (c) Marc Meynadier.

Montpellier is located on the Mediterranean coast in the south of France, the capital city of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The population of almost 260,000 is rapidly growing and Montpellier is also home to the 2011/12 Ligue 1 football champions. Les Héraultais play at the Stade Yves-du-Manoir, named after the same man Racing Metro honoured. Montpellier’s stade, which was the first stadium built after rugby turned professional, holds a maximum of 14,700 supporters.

Last Season

MHR finished fifth in the regular season, level on points with Racing Metro but with a better head-to-head record. That gave Fabien Galthié’s side an away barrages match against Castres, where poor discipline from Mamuka Gorgodze in particular cost them in a 25-12 loss. Indeed, yellow cards were a problem all season for Montpellier, with a total of 24. Their attacking and defensive records were in line with a fifth-place spot on the log, and Montpellier were just one point away from Castres in fourth.

Ambitions

Ensuring that Montpellier don’t miss out on the top four and a home game to start the play-offs is mission number one for Galthié this season. With Altrad augmenting the club’s wage budget by €2 million this year, the list of new playing personnel is impressive. If les Héraultais do earn a home fixture for the first knock-out round, then a first Top 14 trophy is a real possibility. In the Heineken Cup, a pool featuring Ulster and Leicester is not the kindest draw but Montpellier will be focused on repeating last season’s quarter-final.

The Coach

Galthie

Cool, sophisticated, and suave. (c) MEDEF.

Galthié’s playing career saw him win three Grand Slams, reach a World Cup final in 1999, claim IRB Player of the Year in 2002, earn a Top 14 title in 2003, collect two Oscar du Midi Olympique awards, and captain his country 24 times in 64 games. An intelligent, classy, observant player, Galthié is possibly the best scrumhalf France has produced. Fortunately for rugby in l’Hexagone, it appears that the 44-year-old has transferred his best traits as a player into his coaching career.

In his first season as a coach in 2004/05, Galthié guided Stade Français to the finals of the Heineken Cup and Top 16. An impressive start, and Galthié’s first silverware came in ’06/07 with Top 14 success, before he quit at the end of the following season to enjoy time away from the game. Taking over at Montpellier in 2010, he helped the club to the Top 14 final in his first season. MHR have lost in the barrages phase in the two campaigns since.

While Galthié backs his players to express themselves on the pitch, the former scrumhalf also appreciates the importance of a powerful set-piece. ‘Super’ Mario Ledesma is the man Galthié entrusts his forwards with. Regardless of the new players, Montpellier’s greatest asset is head coach Galthié.

Transfer Activity

Rene Ranger

It’s all in the beard. (c) Jason Milich.

Rene Ranger could prove to be the best signing in the Top 14 this season, despite the fact that the ITM Cup keeps him in New Zealand until late October. The 26-year-old’s highlight reels say everything that needs to be said about his explosiveness, but his defensive work-rate and breakdown expertise are equally important. Montpellier are getting a world-class player coming into his prime, and Galthié should back Ranger in the 13 shirt. If he does, les Héraultais will have the best outside centre in the league.

Of equal importance is the arrival of tighthead prop Nicolas Mas (33), in a league where “no scrum, no win” is the creed. Also an excellent cook, the former USAP stalwart adds technical expertise to Montpellier’s scrum. MHR have moved to cover the potentially unsettling loss of Argentine hooker Agustin Creevy to Worcester by bringing in Mickaël Ivaldi (23) from Toulon and Thomas Bianchin (25) from Racing Metro.

In the locking department there are three new options in 10-cap Wallaby Sitaleki Timani, Scottish lineout disruptor Jim Hamilton and Cameroonian giant Robins Tchale-Watchou. At 120kg, 123kg and 134kg respectively, that’s a whole lot of prime beef. There are also two new centres at Montpellier, making the choice of Ranger on the wing tempting. Springbok Wynand Olivier (30) is a solid option at 12, while Robert Ebersohn (24) showed intelligence and creativity for the Cheetahs this year.

Galthie has also added extra French influence to his squad. Anthony Floch (30) saw opportunities dry up at Clermont in recent times, but the international fullback remains an excellent counter-attacker. Winger Lucas Dupont (23) is a player of real potential, joining from Grenoble. Also moving to Montpellier from FCG is Jonathan Pélissié (25), a lively, spiky, goal-kicking halfback who is one to watch out for.

New Zealand-capped wing/centre Anthony Tuitavake (31) joins after three years in Japan, while 22-year-old South African centre ‘JP’ du Plessis is also on board.

Key Players

Despite Philippe Saint-André’s disinterest, François Trinh-Duc is a superb outhalf. The 26-year-old is the heartbeat of les Héraultais, with his intelligence and vision prompting the team around the pitch. PSA’s decision to omit Trinh-Duc from June’s tour of New Zealand meant the outhalf benefited from his first full pre-season in several years. With that fitness base, expect a strong start from the Montpellier-born star.

Francois Trinh-Duc

Trinh-Duc in the main man. (c) Martin Dobey.

Providing service to Trinh-Duc last season was Benoît Paillaugue (26). The place-kicking scrumhalf enjoyed the stand-out year of his career so far and will be confident of holding off the challenge of newcomer Pélissié

Montpellier’s back-row is an area of strength. Mamuka Gorgodze is a player of animal aggression, which does slip into ill-discipline. When he’s focused on playing rugby, ‘Gorgodzilla’ is a bullocking presence. Captain Fulgence Ouedraogo has an unmatchable work rate. Having joined the club at the age of 12 alongside Trinh-Duc, Ouedraogo’s passion is an inspiration. New Zealander Alex Tulou is a powerful ball-carrying No. 8 who had a majestic campaign in ’12/13. Johnnie Beattie of Scotland and the experienced Alexandre Bias add competition and depth.

Irish Connection

Ulster fans will remember the name Timoci Nagusa well, owing to the two seasons the Fijian winger spent at the province from 2008 to 2010. Since joining MHR the 26-year-old has scored 34 tries in 69 starts. Having a Fijian on the wing is something of a fashion in French rugby now, but Nagusa is certainly among the most valuable finishers in the league. His tries are likely to be vital as Galthié’s Montpellier look to create history.

Possible Starting XV

15. Floch, 14. Nagusa, 13. Ranger, 12. Ebersohn, 11. Dupont, 10. Trinh-Duc, 9. Paillaugue, 8. Tulou, 7. Gorgodze/Bias, 6. Ouedraogo, 5. Hamilton/Tchale-Watchou, 4. Timani, 3. Mas, 2. Bianchin/Ivaldi, 1. Nariashvili (Note: Gorgodze and Bianchin are expected to miss the first seven or eight games of the season through injury.)

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Photos: Marc Meynadier, MEDEF, Jason Milich, Martin Dobey,

Lucky Leinster Escape Stade de la Mosson with Draw

Match Report

Montpellier 16-16 Leinster

12th November @ Stade de la Mosson

Sexton earned a drwa for Leinster in the last minute

Sexton held his nerve late on. Photo via MD+D

Jonny Sexton secured a draw for Leinster with the last kick of the game as Leinster survived a tough test in the first match of their Heineken Cup defence against Montpellier. A disciplined and physical effort from the French side had seemingly given them all four points until they conceded a penalty in the last passage of play. To a deafening chorus of boos Sexton held his nerve and kicked the three pointer. Joe Schmidt will have been relieved to get two points from this match and move onto next Sunday’s clash with Glasgow at the RDS.

Montpellier were making their Heineken Cup debut here but were not over-awed to be facing the defending champions. Indeed Fabian Galthie’s side came out highly motivated and took the game to Leinster all afternoon.

Scrumhalf Benoit Paillaugue drew first blood for Montpellier when he was successful with a penalty given for hands in the ruck. Sexton equalized for Leinster minutes later with a 39m effort just to the right of the uprights. In the 16th minute, Sexton put his team in front after Mamuka Gorgodze was pinged for not rolling away.

Leinster were doing well at managing Gorgodze’s surges on the ball. He was met by at least two tacklers every time he got his hands on the ball. Montpellier were similarly dealing well with Leinster’s wrecking ball, Sean O’Brien, taking inspiration from Wales’ example in the World Cup and cutting him down with low tackles. Trinh-Duc at outhalf was threatening every time he had the ball, carrying with pace to the gain-line. Sexton showed he too could threaten after soft hands from Cullen and Heaslip manufactured a break for their outhalf. Sexton tried a cross-kick on the run and the move came to nothing.

Both sides were showing great attacking qualities and the next few minutes were heart-stopping. Luke Fitzgerald made a scorching break into Montpellier’s 22. Leinster spread the ball across to Isa Nacewa whose attempted grubber was blocked by the feet of Argentine fullback Lucas Amorosino. After hacking the ball downfield, Amorosino won the chase and popped off the deck to France international Fulgence Ouedraogo. The powerful blind-side had a clear run to the line for the game’s first try. Paillaugue added the conversion from under the posts, 10-6 to the home side.

The diminutive scrumhalf added another penalty soon after from distance. Both sides continued to look for tries. Leinster enjoyed good field position, attacking inside the Montpellier half but the defensive effort of Galthie’s side was fantastic. Throughout the course of the match they were patient enough that they gave away few penalties but also aggressive in recognizing the opportunity to turn over possession. Ouedraogo and replacement Remy Martin excelled in this regard.

The opening fifteen minutes of the second half saw the physicality of both sides stepping up even further. Gorgodze started to gain some yards carrying as Montpellier continued to repel O’Brien and the other Leinster ball carriers. The sides were turning each other over frequently in a real breakdown battle. Gorgodze steamrolled through O’Brien’s tackle as Leinster conceded a penalty and with Paillaugue replaced by Tomas Martin, Trinh-Duc took over the place kicking duties, extending the lead to 16-6.

Leinster made several replacements coming into the last quarter. Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan and Sean Cronin all made an impact and helped Schmidt’s men to recover the deficit. Cronin showed his dynamism on the ball soon after coming on when he took an inside pass from McFadden and burst through the defensive line. The passage broke down through a forced pass but signaled a slight shift in momentum.

Leinster had raised the tempo and were now getting on the front foot with clean rucks and quick service from Reddan. Toner showed soft hands to offload to O’Brien and the blindside finally rumbled through contact. Quick ball was spread to Cronin who bounced up from Gorgodze’s tackle and dived over for the try. Sexton converted and Leinster were back in contention, 16-13.

Leinster came straight back into the Montpellier half, searching for the winning try. Montpellier’s defence held firm, first from a maul which saw several of the Leinster backs joining the shove. Then, from a scrum five metres out on the left with only a minute left, D’Arcy knocked on. Montpellier cleared the ball and it seemed that Leinster had run out of time.

But with the seconds ticking down, Leinster came back into the Montpellier half and finally the French side’s patient defence let them down. A needless penalty for hands in the ruck gave Sexton the chance to salvage the draw for Leinster.

Photo courtesy:  MD+D

Heineken Cup Round 1 Previews

Photo via bobaliciouslondon

Friday 11th November (20.00)

Harlequins vs. Connacht @ The Twickenham Stoop

Connacht are the first Irish province up in the opening weekend of Heineken Cup action. They travel to London to take on high-flying Harlequins on Friday night. ‘Quins have made a flawless start to their Aviva Premiership campaign with eight wins from eight so far. Boosted by last season’s win over Munster in the Amlin Challenge Cup semi-final in Thomond Park, Conor O’Shea’s side have begun this season bristling with confidence and represent a serious test for Connacht on their Heineken Cup debut.

With All-Black Nick Evans directing play at outhalf, Nick Easter leading by example from no. 8 and Mike Brown threatening from full back, Harlequins are not short on experience. Jordan Turner-Hall in the centre is dynamic and will be aiming for a senior English international cap this season. Conor O’Shea will hope to keep his side’s feet on the ground and avoid complacency against Connacht.

Photo via boocal

After a solid start to their RaboDirect PRO12 campaign, with three wins from four, Connacht come into this match off the back of a four game losing-streak. The loss of last season’s key players like Sean Cronin, Ian Keatley and Fionn Carr is an obvious blow to Eric Elwood’s side. He will hope that the likes of Eoin Griffin, Paul O’Donohoe and Tiernan O’Halloran can provide supporters with new heroes.

This away fixture is a tough assignment for the Western province but they will be highly motivated. Many of the squad’s longer-serving members will have dreamed of this chance to prove themselves at the top level of European club rugby. Expect a ferocious start from Connacht. That said, Harlequins fantastic form so far this season sees them as clear favourites for this tie.

Saturday 12th November (13.30)

Montpellier vs. Leinster @ Stade de la Mosson

Leinster begin their title defence on Saturday with a trip to the south of France to take on Montpellier. Leinster will take confidence from their 24-19 win over Munster last weekend at the Aviva, even if they may not have been entirely happy with the performance. They sit joint top of the RaboDirect PRO12 with the Ospreys on 26 points after 8 games. The boost of the returned World Cup players has been tempered by the news that Brian O’Driscoll will most likely miss the remainder of this season.

Still, this Leinster side has quality all over the pitch and also within the squad. The likes of Fergus McFadden and Eoin O’Malley will look to shine in O’Driscoll’s absence and Jonny Sexton will be eager to show Declan Kidney that he is Ireland’s premier flyhalf. Jamie Heaslip’s place at no. 8 is under increasing pressure so expect a big performance form him. Joe Schmidt has the luxury of quality squad players to provide competition in almost every position. On paper, Leinster clearly have enough quality to beat any team, but the post-World Cup form of the international players will be an issue.

Photo via MD+D

Montpellier have endured a dreadful start to the Top 14 in France, winning only two of their nine fixtures so far. Nonetheless, Leinster will have to be wary of a backlash from Fabien Galthie’s team who narrowly lost out to Toulouse in last season’s Top 14 final. France international Francois Trinh-Duc will hope to pick up where he left off in the World Cup final, impressing after coming off the bench against New Zealand. Leinster will also have to halt the rampaging Mamuka Gorgodze in his tracks. L’Equipe named the imposing Georgian the Top 14’s Foreign Player of the Year last season

This is certainly a winnable match for Leinster and provides them with an early opportunity to get an away win. Montpellier certainly won’t roll over in this one, but Leinster should have enough strength to return home with four points.

Saturday 12th November (15.40)

Ulster vs. Clermont @ Ravenhill

Ulster kick off their European campaign at home to Clermont. Brian McLaughlin will hope his side can build on last season’s run to the quarter finals of this competition. They have been handed a tough task in Pool 4, facing Clermont, Leicester and Aironi. Ulster’s form in the PRO12 has been inconsistent, opening with three wins before a run of four successive losses was ended with the 22-3 won over Connacht last Saturday.

Clermont have a hugely impressive squad on paper, including French World Cup players such as captain Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Bonnaire and Morgan Parra. They also boast a whole other range of internationals like Julien Malzieu, Gonzalo Canale and Elvis Vermuelen. New signings Lee Byrne, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Nathan Hines and David Skrela add an extra dimension and depth to their squad.

Last season, Clermont’s losses when travelling to Racing Metro and Leinster were what cost them a place in the quarter finals. Their 20-13 win at home to Leinster in a high quality match showed the pedigree of Vern Cotter’s side. Clermont come into this fixture sitting in second place in the Top 14, a point behind Toulouse.

Ulster will need to start this game well in order to counter the confidence Clermont will bring to Ravenhill after such an impressive start to the season. McLaughlin will look to his international stars like Ruan Pienaar and new signing John Afoa, as well as Irish stars Stephen Ferris and Andrew Trimble, to lead from the front. Home advantage should just about see Ulster squeeze through in this one.

Saturday 12th November (18.00)

Munster vs. Northampton @ Thomond Park

Finally, Munster host Northampton in Thomond Park on Saturday evening. Tony McGahan’s men will be keen to bounce back from last weekend’s disappointing loss to Leinster. Meanwhile, Northampton are on a five-match winning streak in all competitions, racking up 20 tries in the process. The Saints have welcomed Ben Foden, Chris Ashton, Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes back into the fold, and all four will be delighted to be back playing for their club side after a difficult World Cup with England. Coach Jim Mallinder will have been encouraged by Munster’s loss to Leinster, as well as last month’s defeat in Thomond Park to the Ospreys.

Despite the form and confidence Northampton bring, no one can write off this Munster team. With experience and ability throughout the squad, Munster will fancy themselves to halt the Saints’ recent run. Paul O’Connell has been reinvented and will ensure his team are motivated for another tilt at the Heineken Cup. The injured David Wallace, Keith Earls, Felix Jones, Jerry Flannery and Mike Sherry will all be missed but Munster still have enough in their squad to see off this challenge.

One of the most encouraging aspects of last weekend’s defeat to Leinster was the performance of the scrum. BJ Botha and Wian du Preez will relish the front row battle against Tongauiha, Hartley and Mujati. If they can get on top as they did late in the game against Leinster then this will provide the platform for a Munster win. Lifemi Mafi looks close to his explosive best and O’Gara should look to use him early on to get his side on the front foot. O’Gara will expect to show his mercurial opposite number, Ryan Lamb, how to control a game.

Both teams will approach this game with confidence, and that should make for an absorbing battle. Northampton, last season’s beaten finalists, will surely be aware of what a Munster team who have been questioned by critics and supporters alike are capable of. Expect a close-fought game here. Munster to edge it.

Photos courtesy:  boocal, bobaliciouslondon, MD+D