- In Bath this Saturday (at 9 p.m. on France 4 and BeIN Sports), Montpellier is playing in the semi-final of the European Challenge, five years after having triumphed in the event. This competition, which is often used in the group stage to make players play in lack of playing time, has become an objective for the club.
- A qualification for the final would be a breakthrough in a gloomy season, marked by series of setbacks and the departure of coach Xavier Garbajosa in the heart of winter.
- Montpellier has nevertheless chained six victories in seven games and is much better. Even if the two matches postponed in Top 14 still make it unclear about his future in the elite.
“It’s a little frustrating not to play,” admits Benoît Paillaugue. Three weeks after having set foot on the field for the last time, Montpellier is back in competition. Directly at the heart of the matter, against Bath, a club from the southwest of England, in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, the small European Rugby Cup. His last appearance on a lawn dates back to the quarter-final of the same competition, against the Italians of Treviso (31-25). Since then, the Covid-19 has been there and its championship matches against Toulon and Bègles-Bordeaux have been postponed.
“We can not wait to be there, to relish the fight, the first contacts …”, underlines Guilhem Guirado. For the international hooker (74 selections) and its partners, this imposed cut-off came at a very bad time. The MHR is no longer this dying man who lined up setbacks in the heart of winter, far, very far from the title ambitions displayed by its president, Mohed Altrad.
Rekindle the flame
The sporting crisis that shook the club led to the fall of Xavier Garbajosa in early January and the arrival of Philippe Saint-André as a firefighter on duty to put out the fire. And rekindle the flame. With six victories over the last seven matches in all competitions, the rescue operation is underway. Even if his position in the Top 14 (twelfth, four points in front of the barrage Pau) is still precarious with these late matches which obstruct his vision of the future. “The atmosphere is good and unlike the last few times, we are on a good dynamic, continues Benoît Paillaugue. The two postponed matches did not greatly disturb the group ”.
The small European Cup is rarely a priority objective for French clubs. Montpellier, like his opponent of the day (who also lifted him the big European Cup), has already lifted it once, in 2016. Failing to have responded to the bulimia of Mohed Altrad and won other trophies , he will be satisfied with this consolation prize, which could somewhat ease the bitterness of a very sluggish season. And too bad if the meetings will be linked by the end of May and force the MHR to play on two fronts. “If we can go to the final, it will be the best puzzle to manage,” warns the forward coach Olivier Azam. In this season where the MHR has sometimes hit rock bottom, finding Leicester on May 21 in the final at Twickenham, would already be a breath of fresh air …