Montpellier beat Castres to reach Toulon semi
Montpellier (France) (AFP)
Montpellier produced a typically bruising display to beat Castres 28-9 on Sunday and qualify for a Top 14 semi-final against Toulon.
It was the fifth time in six years the two sides had met in the Top 14 play-offs but Montpellier, who finished the regular season third to Castres' sixth, proved too powerful having lost three of the previous encounters.
Montpellier opened the scoring on nine minutes through the trusty boot of South African fly-half Demetri Catrakilis after the hosts' powerful pack had rumbled up to within inches of the tryline.
Castres were under the cosh early on and desperately trying to hold out but not even four defenders could stop a powerful five-metre drive from Fiji wing Timoci Nagusa on 13 minutes.
With dust-ups between fired-up rival players breaking out all over the field, referee Laurent Cardona decided to speak to Montpellier's South African centre Francois Steyn and Castres fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta after one energetic scrap to try to calm mounting tensions.
In a bruising encounter, Argentina lock Rodrigo Capo Ortega was knocked out in tackling Montpellier's New Zealand international centre Anthony Tuitavake as the players clashed heads.
Sportingly, Montpellier hooker Bismarck du Plessis stopped playing and reacted quickly to help Capo Ortega, turning over the burly second rower into the recovery position even before Cardona stoped play.
Catrakilis and Urdapilleta exchanged penalties before the break but Castres should have scored a try as well.
Centre Remi Lamerat broke through two weak tackles and was streaking towards the tryline before being crowded out by back-tracking defenders on the Montpellier 22.
He kept the ball alive, though, and Castres went wide left where full-back Geoffrey Palis dropped the ball just metres form the line.
- Bulldozed -
The second half started off as a risk-averse kicking contest that did nothing for the increasingly meagre spectacle.
South African-born France international scrum-half Rory Kockott did knock over a penalty on 49 minutes but that only fired up Montpellier's pack.
Scrum-half Benoit Paillaugue broke the gainline and Steyn bulldozed forward before South African lock Paul Wilemse blasted through Kockott in an obvious mismatch to score.
Another Kockott penalty kept Castres' hopes alive before Montpellier substitute prop Jannie du Plessis was sent to the sinbin for punching Mathieu Babillot in the stomach.
But that saw the game descend into farce at the next scrum as Montpellier were unable to field two props.
Officials spent several minutes in discussion with Montpellier coaches before the game could continue with uncontested scrums, but only after Montpellier had sacrificed another player, leaving them with 13 against 15.
Even so, they stretched their lead when Catrakilis kicked his third penalty.
Castres were in disarray and Tuitavake latched onto a bouncing midfield ball to break upfield and feed South African No.8 Pierre Spies to score a 73rd minute try that killed off any Castres hopes of a comeback.
Unsurprisingly, a bad-tempered encounter ended with yet another 30-man flare-up that left Jannie du Plessis with his shirt practically ripped off his back and a tearful Lamerat with blood around his eye.
On Saturday, New Zealand legend Dan Carter kicked a perfect six from six penalties as Racing 92 beat Toulouse 21-16 to reach the semi-finals.
Toulouse centre Gael Fikou scored the only try of the match but Carter's impeccable performance in his return after three weeks out with a calf problem, set up a semi-final against Clermont.
© 2016 AFP