Montpellier 14 Leicester 15: Niki Goneva’s last-minute try keeps Tigers in the hunt
Leicester looked destined for Heineken Cup lament in the Languedoc until a last-minute try by Niki Goneva completed back-to-back wins over Montpellier and made qualification for the quarter-finals hugely more attainable.
After a scoreless first half, an under-strength Montpellier stayed creditably boisterous even when Tom Youngs’ try broke the impasse, before building a nine-point advantage with two tries of their own.
Moreover, Leicester had lost their fly-half and captain Toby Flood to injury, so when a bungled line-out with two minutes remaining led to Ryan Lamb, on for Flood, trying a dabbed defence-splitter that barely left his boot before Montpellier gobbled it up, the game appeared up. However, on the upside, Lamb had kicked a 40-metre penalty in the 73rd minute to get Leicester in range of victory.
Sure enough there was one more chance and Goneva, the hefty Fijian centre to whom passing is always a second option to trusting his bulk, was the man to take it. Montpellier held Leicester at bay on the left wing but possession was recycled to the right and Niall Morris, Ed Slater and Ayerza ushered Goneva over. Goneva then astutely shrugged off a tackle to ensure his grounding of the ball narrowed the angle of the conversion by Lamb, which both won the match and kept Leicester central to the qualification hunt, three points behind Ulster, the Pool Five leaders.
They came here with a horrendous Heineken Cup record in France, having lost their last seven matches there, including last season’s quarter-final in Toulon, and without a win since beating Bourgoin in 2006-07.
Leicester survived a near miss in the opening minute when Pierre Bérard knocked on with an overlap beckoning. Then Goneva ran into the heaviest of traffic in the Montpellier 22 and was turned over, and even though Jamie Gibson won the resulting line-out against the throw, the position was lost when Miles Benjamin hesitated and was tackled at the cost of conceding a penalty for holding on.
In the 22nd minute Benjamin was caught again, this time making a blatant block on Benoit Paillaugue as the scrum-half set off to chase his box-kick. Benjamin was sent to the sin-bin, but the change in personnel had no effect on the scoreline. Not even when Leicester had a fantastic attacking position with a five-metre scrum, only for Ben Youngs to slip when looking for a gap.
The Leicester pratfalls continued to pile up: Tom Waldrom tapped a free-kick from the next scrum, was held, and the lock, Graham Kitchener, was stripped of possession. A hoof upfield obliged Benjamin to hare back to cover, and he was pinged again for not releasing. Montpellier opted for line-outs instead of a kick at goal, but could make nothing of them.
Benjamin’s woes endured when he had a possible try in the 47th minute rubbed out for the merest tap of his toe on the touchline from a long pass by Waldrom shipped on by Scott Hamilton.
Four minutes later, though, Waldrom trundled up the middle, Goneva and Ben Youngs each bought a little yardage with a dummy, and the latter fed his hooker brother Tom to crash past three tacklers to the line. But Leicester, perhaps losing focus through the sheer relief, were immediately reined in.
A muffed restart led to a scrum on halfway, which Montpellier forced against the head and, aided by a lucky bounce as the No 8 Alex Tulou went forward and fumbled, Paillaugue’s run was finished off by Enzo Selponi, and Paillaugue converted for 7-5.
If that was slack by Leicester, the next Montpellier score was shot through with misfortune. Ayerza might have been guarding a ruck on the 22-metre line if the prop hadn’t been receiving treatment, which made it easier for Mamuka Gordodze to go on the rampage, and feed Dupont for Montpellier’s second try, converted by Eric Escande
Lamb brought it back to 14-8 and eventually with the clock showing a heart-fluttering 79 minutes 20 seconds, Goneva struck. “Tom Youngs was world-class and it’s a mark of Leicester the way they kept playing to the end. The pool is still in our hands,” said Richard Cockerill, the Leicester director of rugby.
Montpellier: Tries Selponi, Dupont; Conversions Paillaugue, Escande. Leicester: Tries T Youngs, Goneva; Conversion Lamb; Penalty Lamb.
Montpellier P Berard (A Floch, 58); L Dupont, A Tuitavake (T Combezou, 53), W Olivier, Y Artru; E Selponi, B Paillaugue (E Escande 61); Y Watremez (N Leleimalefaga, 53), M Ivaldi (T Bianchin, 61), N Mas (N Leleimalefaga, 53), R Tchale-Watchou, T Privat (M de Marco, 58), A Bias, M Gorgodze (capt), A Tulou (J Beattie, 55).
Leicester S Hamilton; N Morris, N Goneva, D Bowden (M Smith, 68), M Benjamin; T Flood (capt; R Lamb, 55), B Youngs; M Ayerza, T Youngs, D Cole, L Deacon (E Slater, 58), G Kitchener, J Gibson, J Salvi, T Waldrom (J Crane, 61).
Referee N Owens (Wales).
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