Exeter result puts ball firmly in Leinster’s court
Leinster can guarantee quarter-final place with a win over Glasgow on Sunday
Exeter’s Sam Simmonds gets over the line for a close-range score against Montpellier at Sandy Park. Photograph: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Exeter 41 Montpellier 10
Exeter’s thumping win over Montpellier on Saturday means that Leinster can seal top spot in Pool Three of the Champions Cup and a place in the quarter-finals with a win over Glasgow at the RDS on Sunday lunchtime (1pm kick-off).
With 18 points already on the board, a win of any hue for Leo Cullen’s side against a depleted Glasgow will put them beyond the reach of both Exeter and Montpellier, regardless of what happens next weekend.
Rob Baxter’s side leapfrog Montpellier into second place on 14 points on the back of this result, with the nouveau riche French outfit slipping to third on 13 points.
Leinster travel to the south of France in the final round of fixtures next Saturday while the Chiefs, who have put themselves back in the mix for a best runners-up berth, are away at bottom-placed Glasgow.
Olly Woodburn scored two tries as Exeter kept their hopes alive while Dave Ewers, Sam Simmonds, Don Armand and Nic White also crossed for a rampant Chiefs.
Montpellier, the Top 14 leaders, were hugely disappointing with their forwards being comfortably outmuscled by a dominant home pack. Their only points came from a try by Nemani Nadolo and a penalty and a conversion from Aaron Cruden.
Montpellier shaded the opening exchanges as the Chiefs’ lineout malfunctioned. They lost three consecutive throws but the visitors could not capitalise with their captain Louis Picamoles coming the nearest to scoring when he broke away from a lineout only to be hauled down 10 metres short.
As a result, the first quarter ended scoreless as both sides frequently infringed and regularly turned over possession to prevent any real flow.
After 23 minutes, the hosts had their first chance for points when, after a succession of forward drives, Luke Cowan-Dickie looked set to force his way over but the hooker lost possession in the tackle and the French were able to relieve the pressure.
However, Exeter continued to dominate the second quarter and four minutes later were rewarded with the first try after a clever pass from Steenson sent Mitch Lees haring into the opposition 22.
The lock was brought to ground but Chiefs recycled for former Montpellier player White to make further inroads before Ewers drove over. Steenson converted but, from the restart, Exeter made a couple of needless errors to allow the visitors a period of pressure. They lacked the accuracy to finish, though, so Chiefs deservedly held a 7-0 lead at the interval.
After the restart the hosts had the advantage of the wind and despite Montpellier changing both props, Chiefs continued to dominate at the scrum to win a number of crucial penalties. However, it was the French who picked up the next score when Cruden kicked a simple penalty after 52 minutes, but straight from the restart Exeter extended their lead with a close-range try from Simmonds.
Six minutes later, the home side secured victory when Woodburn squeezed in at the corner for Chiefs to lead 19-3 at the end of the third quarter. Montpellier’s second-half slide continued as they conceded a fourth try, with Woodburn showing remarkable determination to force his way between two tacklers to pick up the vital bonus point.
The visitors had now totally capitulated for White and Armand to score further tries to ram home Exeter’s superiority. Nadolo’s late effort was a mere consolation.
Exeter: Turner; Whitten, Slade, S Hill, Woodburn; Steenson, White; Moon, Cowan-Dickie, Williams; Lees, J Hill; Ewers, Armand, S Simmonds. Replacements: J Simmonds for Steenson, Chudley for White (both 70 mins), Hepburn for Moon, Yeandle for Cowan-Dickie, Francis for Williams (all 55 mins), Kvesic for Ewers (59 mins), Salmon for S Simmonds (70 mins). Not Used: Dollman.
Montpellier: Immelman; N’gandebe, Steyn, Serfontein, Nadolo; Cruden, Aprasidze; Nariashvili, B du Plessis, Jonker; Van Rensburg, Mikautadze; Bardy, Camara, Picamoles. Replacements: Tomane for Serfontein (61 mins), Mogg for Aprasidze (70 mins), Fichten for Nariashvili (46 mins), Ruffenach for B du Plessis (70 mins), Haouas for Jonker (41 mins), Delannoy for Mikautadze (63 mins), Galletier for Camara (58 mins). Not Used: Fall
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales).