Saint-Andre's lowly Montpellier squander big lead in 'difficult' Brive loss

Paris (AFP) –


Former France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said it was a blow to the squad's morale to lose his second game in charge of Top 14 strugglers Montpellier on Sunday, a 23-22 defeat at Brive despite having enjoyed a 19-0 half-time lead.

Saint-Andre, who took over from the sacked Xavier Garbajosa last weekend, also tasted defeat on Wednesday at Lyon.

"We played well for the first half. If we want to stay in the Top 14 we have to play well for 80 minutes," Saint-Andre said.

"For the morale, it's difficult, the players gave a lot," he added.

The game was played 24 hours after the French government advised clubs to postpone their upcoming European Cup matches with British teams due to the new Covid-19 variant in the United Kingdom.

The hosts' coach Jeremy Davidson made 12 changes from last weekend's hammering at Stade Francais with former Fiji U20s back-rower Kitione Kamikamica among the three to keep their places.

For the visitors, Vincent Rattez was the only survivor from Wednesday's loss at Stade de Gerland.

Saint-Andre's side led comfortably at the break as France's Arthur Vincent and Anthony Bouthier, deputising at fly-half for South Africa's Handre Pollard who has been out since September with a serious knee injury, were on the scoresheet.

The pair are set to be named in les Bleus' Six Nations squad on Monday along with team-mates Paul Willemse and Mohammed Hoauas.

Prop Haouas, who will be questioned on January 29 for an alleged robbery of a tobacconist, was shown a yellow card for a high tackle after two minutes of the second half which inspired Davidson's men.

Enzo Herve kicked 11 points and lock Victor Lebas crossed to make it 22-16 going into the final quarter.

The home side dominated the closing moments and replacement hooker Thomas Acquier crashed over from a driving maul and Herve slotted the conversion with 30 seconds left to claim a surprise victory.

Saint-Andre's men remain in the relegation play-off spot and are winless in six games as Brive move up to ninth.

- No 'Classico' for Kolbe -

Argentina winger Bautista Delguy claimed a double as Bordeaux-Begles overcame Lyon 31-9 and Clermont beat Pau 42-31.

Elsewhere, record 20-time champions Toulouse host Stade Francais in French rugby's 'Classico' but Pollard's fellow World Cup winner Cheslin Kolbe remains sidelined with a finger injury.

La Rochelle's trip to Racing 92 became the 13th match of the campaign to be postponed due to Covid-19 cases among a side's squad.

With Champions and Challenge Cup fixtures next weekend in doubt the French top-flight could re-schedule some of the affected games.

On Saturday, Fiji sevens international Vilimoni Botitu claimed his first Top 14 try in Castres' 39-23 home victory over Agen to extend the bottom side's winless run to 14 matches.