Six-try Montpellier book Top 14 semi-final spot

Paris (AFP) –


Montpellier booked their place in the French Top 14 semi-finals on Saturday with a six-try 45-13 victory over Pau while three-time European champions Toulon wrapped up a play-off spot.

With 81 points, Montpellier are guaranteed to finish the regular season on top of the table as they look to win a first French title.

Their 17th win of the season came courtesy of a second-half rampage after they were just 10-6 to the good at the interval.

South Africa centre Francois Steyn had grabbed the opening score on 23 minutes.

After the break, All Blacks World Cup winner Aaron Cruden and Fiji winger Nemani Nadolo, with his 17th try of the season, extended the lead.

Forwards Bismarck du Plessis, Paul Willemse and skipper Louis Picamoles added three more inside 10 minutes.

Another South African Ruan Pienaar converted all six tries and knocked over a penalty for a 15-point personal haul.

It's only the second time in Montpellier's history that thay have reached the semi-finals after their initial 2014 breakthrough.

Saturday's win was also their 13th in 13 games at home with 11 of those yielding bonus points.

"We are happy to be in the semi-finals, and after the match against Lyon next week, we will have time to prepare for the semi-final, which gives us the opportunity to work together for three weeks," said Montpellier coach Vern Cotter.

The semi-finals take place in Lyon on the weekend of May 26.

"The first half today was a warning," added the wary New Zealand coach. "We need to impose our game and not just rely on reacting in the second half as we did today."

Toulon ran in eight tries in a 59-13 demolition of Castres to book their place in the play-offs for the seventh year running.

Josua Tuisova got the first of a pair of tries for Toulon after just five minutes, Facundo Isa (22), Ma'a Nonu (34) and then Mathieu Bastareaud touching down to give the hosts a convincing first-half lead.

Alby Mathewson (76), the league's top scorer Chris Ashton (79), and Raphael Lakafia (80+1) touched down late for Toulon.

Toulon have 73 points, three ahead of Toulouse and Racing92 who both play on Sunday.

Lyon remain fifth after losing to Oyonnax 39-18 while Castres hang onto the sixth and final play-off spot.

Stade Francais defeated Brive 30-22 to confirm their defeated opponents' relegation.

However, the Paris giants are not necessarily safe from a relegation play-off as Oyonnax's win kept them three points behind Stade with just one round of regular-season games left to play.