Montpellier is no longer just back at the highest level of French rugby, it sits at its peak. More than a year after the fears of relegation to the second division, Montpellier Hérault Rugby (MHR) wrote, on Friday June 24, the most beautiful page of its young history by winning its first title of champion of France. At the Stade de France, the MHR flew over this Top 14 final against Castres (29-10) to succeed Stade Toulouse.
There were still ten minutes to play when the Montpellier bench began to congratulate each other. In the stands for his last match before retirement, the child of the Fulgence Ouedraogo club (35) descended to the edge of the lawn to hug his teammate Benoît Paillaugue (34), with tears in his eyes, who will play next season. in the Toulon jersey. A little further on, the other future retiree Guilhem Guirado (36) was all smiles, happy to conquer his second Brennus shield, after that of 2009 with Perpignan.
“It’s very moving, it’s something that must be etched in our memories, confided captain Yacouba Camara on Canal +. Now that we have this shield, we are more than brothers or friends, we are family. Everyone knows you have to hit rock bottom to get back up, and we did it. We’ve been through some tough times and this band has steel metal. »
A first quarter of an hour of madness
“It’s confusing, it’s a mess, I think I don’t realize at all. We’re the first, we’ll always be the first, we’ve been chasing this for so many years, analyzed Benoît Paillaugue. You would have said that to me at the start of the season, I don’t know if I would have laughed, but I would have said let’s try to be in the top six. It is the reward of a workforce, of a club, of a president, of all those who have gone before us. It’s nice to win a title. We got spat on, apparently we had no ID. Many things have been said, rightly or wrongly. We wanted to erase all that but I think Montpellier will be a little more respected. »
To tell the truth, the MHR could have celebrated after only a quarter of an hour of play. Criticized before the final for their game based on the power of their forwards, the Montpellier residents proved in the first fifteen minutes that they also had qualities offensives to assert. They did not want to relive their last two finals lost against Toulouse in 2011 (15-10) and especially against Castres Olympique (CO) in 2018 (29-13).
At first realistic by scoring the first try by Arthur Vincent following a counter-attack and an error from Castres (6e), the Héraultais doubled the bet thanks to Florian Verhaeghe (11e). Two minutes later, a wonderful offensive launch concluded in the corner by Anthony Bouthier (13e) allowed Philippe Saint-André’s men to widen the gap (20-0).
On the one hand, Montpellier unfolded their game, on the other, Castres accumulated error after error in a nightmarish start to the match, symbolized by the early injury exit of their playmaker, Benjamin Urdapilleta. Missed penalty, missed penalty, lost ball approaching the line and multiple clumsiness: the CO had his head upside down.
A heroic defense
The Castres gradually managed to extricate themselves from the slump in the second period by cornering Montpellier on their goal line. But the MHR returned to its fundamentals, already seen against Bordeaux-Bègles in the semi-finals (19-10), a heroic defense to frustrate the opponent. The CO crossed the opposing goal line three times in less than ten minutes at the start of the second half, without managing to flatten a single time, in particular due to the selflessness of the Englishman Zach Mercer.
It was not until the end of the match that the Tarnais finally unlocked their counter by Vilimoni Botitu (26-10, 75e). A try for honor. Meanwhile, Montpellier had already been celebrating for five minutes to the delight of its president, Mohel Altrad, and Philippe Saint-André, who also won his first Brennus. The party was just beginning for the Montpellier, who will have a new status to defend next season.