Leicester 17-18 Montpellier: Agony for Tigers as they run out of roar to lose European Challenge Cup final by a single point… with dreams of ending trophy drought dashed at Twickenham
- Leicester Tigers missed out on European glory after a narrow loss to Montpellier
- Montpellier edged a thrilling Challenge Cup final at Twickenham by just a point
- Tigers led 17-10 but then fell victim to a stunning comeback from the French side
Leicester’s long wait for a title goes on as their European Challenge Cup campaign ended in an agonising near-miss at Twickenham on Friday night.
Eight years after the last of their Premiership triumphs and two decades on from the first of two back-to-back continental successes, the East Midlands club squandered a glorious chance to launch a new era of prosperity.
Leicester had rolled into a 17-10 lead as their maul earned two tries, only for Montpellier to snatch the spoils with a strike by their Springbok centre, Johan Goosen.
Montpellier have won the European Challenge Cup after beating Leicester at Twickenham
The Tigers found themselves on the wrong end of an agonising defeat by just a single point
Steve Borthwick has been overseeing a revival operation at Leicester, but Philippe Saint-Andre has been on a similar mission at Montpellier and he now has a trophy to show for his efforts, 15 years after his Sale side smashed the Tigers at the same venue to win the Premiership.
This result will ensure double French glory this weekend, as La Rochelle and Toulouse meet in Saturday’s Champions Cup Final.
Leicester’s rugby players had been hoping to emulate the city’s footballers by winning the secondary European prize six days after the Foxes seized the FA Cup for the first time.
Alexandre Becognee and his jubilant team-mates wildly after their triumph was confirmed
Johan Goosen went over in stunning fashion to secure Montpellier pulsating glory in London
Following years of decline, thousands of their fans came to London hoping to witness a landmark feat, but instead left frustrated after their side were shut out in the final quarter, with George Ford narrowly off target with a drop goal shot which might have turned the tables.
The outcome was hard to take, but Tigers captain Tom Youngs emphasised an overall sense of progress.
‘We haven’t been in a final for eight years and we’re going forward,’ he said. ‘Losing by one point is disappointing, but everyone knows in the last eight years Leicester have been going down and now we are going up again. I couldn’t be prouder. We have to hold our heads up high sometimes and this is one of those moments.’
A Ford penalty put Leicester 3-0 up, but in the 14th minute Montpellier pounced for an opportunistic try, to capitalise on their early dominance. From a scrum near halfway, Arthur Vincent and Fulgence Ouedraogo made good ground to force the Tigers into retreat.
Dan Kelly was left shocked as Tigers battled away for their first European trophy in 19 years
Anthony Bouthier glided neatly beyond the tackle of Charlie Clare in the feisty showdown
The ball was switched towards the left flank, Anthony Bouthier kicked ahead and Vincent Rattez hacked on before stretching to touch down just as Matias Moroni swooped to snuff out the danger. It was a brilliant poacher’s strike which Benoit Paillaugue converted to make it 7-3 to Montpellier.
Back they came again and scrum-half Paillaugue swiftly added a penalty, before a spell of sparring ended with Ford missing his next shot at the other end. But on the half-hour, Montpellier No 8 Alexandre Becognee was sin-binned for collapsing a maul and Leicester took full advantage.
Three minutes later, they drew level with a thunderous show of force from the pack.
A lineout drive from the Tigers forwards took them through the opposition 22 and up towards the right corner. Kini Murimurivalu tried to break clear and was stopped, but from the subsequent ruck, Harry Wells was forced over. Ford added the extras to make it 10-10.
Kelly broke beyond Paul Willemse with the intensity of the 10,000 crowd matched on the pitch
Nemani Nadal scored a disallowed try as Leicester’s pace and power initially looked too much
Paillaugue’s next penalty was off the mark meaning the teams went into the break all square, with casualties on both sides.
Leicester lost Guy Porter and flanker Cyle Brink during that punishing first half, while Ouedraogo was helped off to deprive Montpellier of one of their talismen.
Leicester maintained their positive momentum after half-time, as a sweeping attack led to Nemani Nadolo touching down in the left corner, but the TMO ruled there had been a knock-on in the build-up.
However, the Tigers kept pressing and, after Montpellier captain Guilhem Guirado was shown a yellow card, Borthwick’s men struck again.
Guy Porter was forced off through injury and Leicester would eventually fall short of victory
A large crowd was welcomed back in the capital after the easing of the Covid-19 restrictions
The maul was the favoured weapon once more as an attacking lineout on the left was the platform for a powerful drive and Jasper Wiese went over. Ford converted from a wide angle. The Tigers were in charge, or so it seemed.
In fact, Montpellier weren’t done. First, Paillaugue struck another penalty, then came another try. Gabriel Ngandebe surged clear on the left and when the ball came back across, Jan Serfontein and Bouthier combined to send Goosen away to score.
The French side were in front again, by a solitary point and that was how it stayed, leaving Leicester to rue a missed opportunity.
Tigers supporters were in full voice but their stars were the victims of Montpellier’s comeback
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