Montpellier beat Stade Francais to edge closer to Top 14 playoffs


Paris (AFP)

Montpellier can continue to dream of making the Top 14 playoffs as they moved into sixth spot after making 14-man Stade Francais pay in the final 10 minutes of a crucial 42-25 victory on Sunday.

Stade hooker Laurent Sempere was shown yellow in the 69th minute and the home side crossed for three converted tries to one to ensure a seventh win in eight games as they battle to be included in the end-of-season finals.

The result left Montpellier ahead of La Rochelle on points difference, but Stade Francais out of the reckoning.

"It was a tough match, tense right to the end," said Montpellier's Kiwi coach Vern Cotter.

"It's seven weekends we've played a final. It toughens you up. We've come away with five points, we can believe, we can get into the top six. We have our destiny in our hands."

Stade Francais' forwards coach Pieter de Villiers said the score "doesn't reflect the match which was very tight for a long time".

The Parisians' Sekou Macalou ensured a thrilling start, the flanker bursting from a second-minute line-out to intercept a botched Benoit Paillaugue pass and sprint clear for a try converted by Nicolas Sanchez.

Ex-All Black Aaron Cruden spurned an opportunity to pull back a penalty, the powerful Montpellier forward pack rumbling over from a well-worked maul off the line-out, Springbok hooker Bismarck du Plessis grounding the ball.

Paillaugue converted to draw the scores level and then knocked over the extras after Yvan Reilhac crossed for the home side's second try following a clever one-handed offload by giant Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo.

Stade Francais hit back as Macalou stretched out for his second try, Sanchez converting.

Cruden broke the deadlock in the second half, on the receiving end of a smart inside pass from Reilhac, who ghosted through an absent Stade defence.

Paillaugue converted, but Sanchez pulled back a penalty before the Montpellier scrum-half was yellow carded in the 57th minute.

Sanchez booted a second long-range penalty to make it a one-point deficit.

It was Montpellier on the front foot, however, putting together a long sequence of drives that eventually saw Stade hooker Sempere sent to the bin.

The pressure told, Paillaugue burrowing his way over for a try he also converted.

Straight from the kick-off, Montpellier latched on to a loose ball and after two kicks ahead from Du Plessis and Gabriel Ngandebe, full-back Henry Immelman managed to touch down, Paillaugue again on target from the tee.

There was a late consolation try for Stade winger Lester Etien, but that was cancelled out when Montpellier's replacement prop Mohammed Haouas sprinted clear from 35 metres for a memorable front rower's try that handed the home side an invaluable bonus point.

Bordeaux's already slim hopes of making the play-offs were sunk in an extraordinary second-half collapse against Toulouse who had already made sure of a semi-final place.

Bordeaux, watched by a crowd of 28,000 at their Stade Chaban-Delmas home, led 36-7 at half-time but eventually fell to a 43-36 loss with Toulouse scoring five of their six tries in the second period.

The defeat leaves Bordeaux in ninth place with just one game left although their post-season hopes were really doomed by their form on the road where they have gone pointless since the start of 2019.