Johan Goosen’s second-half try proved the difference as Montpellier edged out Leicester 18-17 to win the European Challenge Cup final at a rain-swept Twickenham on Friday.
Leicester were 17-10 ahead early in the second-half of a see-saw contest thanks to No 8 Jasper Wiese’s try.
But when man-of-the-match Goosen, his fellow South African, went over for Montpellier in the 58th minute, the French club had a slender 18-17 lead after Benoit Paillague’s conversion came back off the far post.
Montpellier, champions also in 2016, were twice reduced to 14 men after both No 8 Alexandre Becognee and captain Guilhem Guirado were sin-binned.
“When I took over we lost five matches in a row, mostly late on,” said Montpellier boss Philippe Saint-Andre, appointed in January.
– ‘Beautiful tries’ –
“But today we were defensively well organised. When we had the ball we were dangerous and scored beautiful tries.”
Montpellier’s win means France are assured of a European club double this season, with Top 14 rivals Toulouse and La Rochelle contesting the European Champions Cup final at Twickenham on Saturday.
Defeat left two-time European champions Leicester looking for their first major trophy since they won the last of their 10 English Premiership titles in 2013.
Yet a side that would have been relegated from the Premiership last season but for Saracens’ demotion due to salary-cap breaches, pushed Montpellier all the way.
“I felt like everyone gave everything they had out there,” said Tigers captain Tom Youngs.
“Everyone knows what we’ve been through in recent years as a club and there were some young boys out there tonight who will grow immensely from this experience.”
In front of a crowd of 10,000, mostly Leicester, fans – the first time spectators had been seen at the 80,000 capacity Twickenham ground since last year’s Autumn Nations Cup following this week’s easing of Covid-19 restrictions – an entertaining first half ended all square at 10-10.
Both teams scored a penalty and converted try apiece, France wing Vincent Rattez crossing for Montpellier before lock Harry Wells went over for Leicester.
The Tigers were up against a star-studded Montpellier side, with Saint-Andre leaving three of South Africa’s World Cup-winners – Bismarck Du Plessis, Cobus Reinach and Handre Pollard – on the bench.
But it was Goosen, who won the last of his 13 Springbok caps in 2016, who produced the key score. He is set to join the Bulls, who are coached by former Montpellier boss Jake White, at the end of the season.
Leicester went ahead in the eighth minute when England flyhalf George Ford kicked a penalty.
Montpellier responded six minutes later when Rattez won the race to the touchdown of his own grubber-kick.
Paillaugue kicked the conversion and, minutes later, the scrumhalf’s penalty gave Montpellier a 10-3 lead.
Montpellier, however, were a man down for the last 10 minutes of the first half when Becognee was sin-binned for collapsing a maul.
Leicester then made their man advantage count when second-row Wells forced his way over for a try.
Ford’s conversion tied the scores at 10-10.
Leicester thought they had scored a try through Nemani Nadolo early in the second half but the powerhouse Fiji wing’s effort was ruled out by a knock-on earlier in the move.
Montpellier though were down to 14 men again when hooker Guirado was yellow carded.
Leicester, rather than go for goal, kicked the ensuing penalty for a close-range line-out and were rewarded when No 8 Wiese was driven over for a try.
Ford added the tough conversion before Paillaugue’s second successful penalty of the match reduced Montpellier’s deficit to 17-13.
And they were in front when full-back Anthony Bouthier counter-attacked before releasing Goosen with an inside pass.