European Challenge Cup: Bath 10-19 Montpellier - French defence blunts English final hopes

By Brent PilnickBBC Sport
Yacouba Camara scores a try
Yacouba Camara's try put Montpellier into a 23rd-minute lead and Bath trailed from then on
European Challenge Cup semi-final
Bath: (10) 10
Tries: Dunn Cons: Spencer Pens: Spencer
Montpellier: (16) 19
Tries: Camara Cons: Paillague Pens: Paillaugue 3, Pollard

Montpellier produced a superb second-half defensive display to come away from Bath with a 19-10 win in their European Challenge Cup semi-final.

Tom Dunn's early Bath try was cancelled out by a Yacouba Camara score as the French side led in the first half.

Bath failed to take a number of good chances on the Montpellier line with the French side reduced to 14 men for a period after the break.

Handre Pollard's last-second penalty ensured the win for the French side.

Montpellier will play Leicester in the final at Twickenham on Friday, 21 May after the Tigers beat Ulster 33-24 on Friday night.

The ball was in the Montpellier 22 for 29% of the second half, but time and again Bath's mistakes and Montpellier's defensive excellence stopped the English side from making a first European final since 2014.

Bath had made their intentions known immediately as two charge downs forced a Montpellier line-out on their own five metre line which Alexandre Becognee knocked on, and a few phases later Dunn went over from close range for the opening try.

Early on, Bath's tactical kicking game was excellent and they were aggressive at the breakdown against a powerful French side, but their discipline started to desert them as Montpellier began to take command - Benoit Paillaugue landed a 20th-minute penalty either side of a pair of three-point misses for the French side.

Warren Gatland
British and Irish Lions boss Warren Gatland was watching the likes of Taulupe Faletau, Anthony Watson and Sam Underhill ahead of next week's squad announcement for the South Africa tour

Scrum-half Paillaugue's dinked kick set up Vincent Rattez who put Camara in for his side's sole try before Ben Spencer responded with a penalty for Bath.

Paillaugue kicked two more penalties for a six-point lead at the break and hit the post 10 minutes after the restart with another attempt.

Bath finally got some offensive momentum five minutes later with numerous phases on the Montpellier line - after three penalties prop Enzo Forletta was sin-binned, but Bath could not turn the pressure on the visitors' line into a score.

Bath's line-out was poor as any good they did was swiftly thrown away while Montpellier made crucial defensive gains at the breakdown at key moments before South Africa fly-half Pollard - who came on as a replacement for his first appearance since rupturing knee ligaments in October - confirmed their progress to the final with his late penalty.

A crowd of 10,000 will attend the final on 21 May following the decision to move both the Champions Cup and Challenge Cup finals to Twickenham from Marseille because of the impact of Covid-19.

Bath director of rugby Stuart Hooper told BBC Radio Bristol:

"I thought we had a great start, but ultimately we were inaccurate after that.

"We lost a number of set pieces and then didn't convert when we got close to the line.

"Our lineout's something which has functioned really well for us over the last 18 months, so it wasn't a good day in that regard, but it's not something which we've seen before.

"Credit to them, it was four visits in the second half and we didn't come up with any points and that's telling.

"The lineout losses and the turnovers at the breakdown through the middle third of the field really hurt us."

Bath: Watson; Cokanasiga, Joseph, Redpath, Muir; Bailey, Spencer; Schoeman, Dunn, Stuart, McNally, Ewels (capt), Faletau, Underhill, Mercer

Replacements: Walker, Bhatti, Thomas, Stooke, Bayliss, Reid, Chudley, Clark

Montpellier: Bouthier; Tisseron, Goosen, Vincent, Rattez; Lozowski, Paillaugue; Forletta, Guirado (capt), Haouas, Verhaeghe, Willemse, Janse van Rensburg, Camara, Becognee

Replacements: Du Plessis, Fichten, Lamositele, Duguid, Ouedraogo, Reinach, Pollard, Martin

Referee: Andrew Brace (Ireland).

Touch judges: Frank Murphy (Ireland), Chris Busby (Ireland).

TMO: Brian MacNeice (Ireland).

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