Leicester 41 Montpellier 32: Miles Benjamin delighted to accept French surrender

 

welford road

The English clubs may be turning their backs on the most compelling annual tournament in the union game but at least they are showing the good grace to wait until the end of the season. The French appear to be engaged in a mass skedaddle with two thirds of the campaign still to run. Racing Métro, Perpignan, Toulouse... between them, three of the biggest teams in the country have just made a mockery of the idea that they are still remotely interested in European competition.

There were times at Welford Road on Sunday when it seemed Montpellier, an enigma wrapped up in a mystery if ever there was one, could not have cared less if they ever played another Heineken Cup match. It took them all of 14 minutes to ship 24 points and while Leicester did some nice things in building a winning lead straight from the kick-off, the visitors gave them no end of assistance. Fluffed line-outs, open-field fumbles, daft passes out of contact, powder-puff tackles – they could hardly have been more helpful.

A team boasting players as dynamic as Timoci Nagusa, Rene Ranger, François  Trinh-Duc, Jonathan Pélissié, Mamuka Gorgodze and Johnnie Beattie might have been expected to play some half-decent stuff before running up the white flag. Instead, they surrendered first and played second. By the end of an encounter that was almost as entertaining as it was bewildering, they had come within a single forward pass of dealing Leicester a mortal blow.

“Had that pass been ruled good, it would certainly have been game on,” confessed Richard Cockerill, the Tigers’ rugby director, referring to Pélissié’s off-load to Nagusa nine minutes from time. Had that attack, launched by Beattie down the short side of a scrum, been rewarded with the seven points it deserved, Montpellier would have been just three shy of their hosts with the momentum surging behind them. As it was, the Frenchmen were denied by the video footage.

To make matters more painful still, Pierre Berard was immediately penalised for failing to release on the floor and could only look on miserably as Toby Flood put the game to bed with a clean penalty strike from 40-odd metres. Berard owed his team and went some of the way to settling up on 78 minutes when he fastened on to Gorgodze’s pass and crossed for a fourth, bonus-point try. But a second bonus went west when Ryan Lamb, badly at fault for Berard’s strike, dropped a goal at the death.

“It won’t be the same knockabout game next week,” predicated Cockerill, who takes the English champions to Montpellier for the return next Sunday. “I don’t think they felt it was that important to win here. They’ll shrug their shoulders, welcome us into their own back yard and throw everything at us. We needed that victory but there’s still a long way to go in this group.”

So there is, but it is the devil’s own job to know just how seriously the French are taking this Heineken Cup business. Some of Montpellier’s early rugby yesterday was on the pathetic side of lamentable and while Vereniki Goneva’s line for the opening Leicester try was slide-rule perfect, and while Miles Benjamin looked a million dollars in bagging the two that followed, it was legitimate to wonder what the hell was going on in the visiting camp.

Not that the Tigers were seeing it from a French perspective. They were far more interested in looking at things from Benjamin’s point of view. The left wing’s tries – the first a side-stepping solo effort past four Montpellier shadow-clutchers, the second a diving finish in the corner after another intervention from Goneva – were heaven-sent gifts for a man who had spent four and a half months in a neck brace and waited 15 months for a first-team debut after switching to Welford Road from Worcester.

By the time the 25-year-old from Solihull had finished tearing Montpellier to shreds, it was impossible to imagine how a match might break out. Yet Nagusa, that force of Fijian nature, had his own ideas. Pilfering the ball from under the Tigers’ noses when Scott Hamilton lost control deep in the visitors’ 22, he somehow worked it to Beattie while lying flat on his back and then watched in delight as the gifted Scottish No 8 delayed his own pass until Gorgodze had a clear run to the line.

That brought Montpellier to within 11 points, and they were closer still when Nagusa scored himself a minute shy of the interval. A couple of penalties from the admirably committed Flood, together with a close-range score from the flanker Jamie Gibson off a driving Leicester scrum, kept the home side in a good place, but when the man from the South Seas burst clear once again to open up the field for the first of Berard’s tries, it dawned on Leicester that there was work still to be done.

This realisation did not come a moment too soon, and with the in-form lock Graham Kitchener very much to the fore, they just about survived the remaining 14 minutes. Whether they survive the forthcoming trip to the Languedoc may be another matter entirely, but then will Montpellier play the whole game, or just a part of it?

Scorers: Leicester: Tries Benjamin 2, Goneva, Gibson; Conversions Flood 3; Penalties Flood 4; Drop goal Lamb. Montpellier: Tries Berard 2, Gorgodze, Nagusa; Conversions Pelissie 2, Trinh-Duc; Penalties Pelissie 2. 

Leicester: S Hamilton; A Thompstone, V Goneva, D Bowden, M Benjamin; T Flood (capt, R Lamb 73), B Youngs; M Ayerza, T Youngs (N Briggs 63), D Cole (F Balmain 73), L Deacon (E Slater 60), G Kitchener, J Gibson, J Salvi, J Crane (T Waldrom 53).

Montpellier: A Floch (P Berard 65); T Nagusa, R Ranger, T Combezou (W Olivier 61), Y Audrin; F Trinh-Duc (capt), J Pelissie (E Escande 73); N Leleimalefaga (M Nariashvili 54), C Geli (T Bianchin 53), M Bustos (P Fa’anunu 53), J Hamilton, M Demarco (T Privat 56), K Galletier (A Tulou 65), M Gorgodze, J Beattie.

Referee: J Lacey (Ireland).

Life and Style
Small winemakers say the restriction makes it hard to sell overseas
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
News
Clare Balding
peopleClare Balding on how women's football is shaking up sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Lewis Hamtilon and pole-sitter Nico Rosberg
SportShould F1's most aggressive driver curb his instincts in title decider?
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
News
i100
Sport
Jonny May scores for England
rugby unionEngland 28 Samoa 9: Wing scores twice to help England record their first win in six
Life and Style
fashionThe Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
Sport
Tony Bellew (left) and Nathan Cleverly clash at the Echo Arena in Liverpool
boxingLate surge sees Liverpudlian move into world title contention
Voices
Neil Findlay
voicesThe vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
food + drinkMeat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin