Clermont Auvergne 10 Leicester Tigers 29
Steve Borthwick praised the guts and determination of his Leicester side after they claimed their first victory at Clermont Auvergne for 17 years. The result puts Leicester in pole position to reach the quarter-finals, where they will face the winner of the tie between Leinster and Connacht.
The Gallagher Premiership leaders will take a 19-point lead into next weekend’s Heineken Champions Cup last-16 second leg at Welford Road after running out 29-10 winners at the Stade Marcel-Michelin despite Guy Porter’s late dismissal.
And Borthwick put the result down to the character and togetherness of his squad.
“I thought for the main part of this game we were tactically really smart against a big team,” said Borthwick.
“I think the way we adapted to the red card and playing with 14 men for 20 minutes was great. I think ultimately the biggest thing is how hard they worked for each other.
“When you look at how Jack van Poortvliet sprinted back to chase an almost lost cause to make that tackle on their player who was straight through early in the second half. (It) was excellent.
“Tommy Reffell was also with him, and the rest of the side were there soon after. I think that showed the spirit in the team, and the heart of this team.”
Leicester scored five tries in total courtesy of Ellis Genge, Julian Montoya, Van Poortvliet, Hosea Saumaki and Harry Potter. George Ford also contributed four points from the kicking tee.
All Clermont could muster was a single try from Cheikh Tiberghien, and five points from Morgan Parra’s boot.
Leicester were forced to play the final quarter of this game with 14 men after Porter was shown a red card for making contact with the head of Clermont number eight Fritz Lee.
Borthwick played down the incident, insisting Porter had no intention to harm Lee.
“I didn’t look at it closely because I was more interested in what we needed to do, and what changes I needed to make,” said Borthwick.
“I’ll have a good look at it. Guy will be very disappointed with it.
“He has a fantastic disciplinary record and is a real honest player. We don’t want any players getting hurt. That’s not why we play rugby. We just want to play good rugby.”
Borthwick has warned his side they will have to stay focused in the second leg to book their place in the last eight of the competition.
“I’m really looking forward to next week, but we have to ensure we are at our best because Clermont are a very good side,” said the former England captain.
“Welford Road can be a loud stadium. The supporters are going to bring a lot of heart and it will pour on to the pitch for our team.
“They do it every time. I’m looking forward to feeling that with the players, and hopefully finishing another game well.”
Montpellier 40 26 Harlequins
Soon after half-time the threat of total humiliation was hanging in the air for Harlequins. Driven forward by a dynamic display from Zach Mercer, the former Bath number eight who scored twice before the break, Montpellier’s potent mixture of ruthless attack and bruising defence looked likely to overwhelm the Premiership champions. But following a resourceful second half recovery when George Hammond, Andre Esterhuizen, Joe Marchant and Louis Lynagh all crossed for tries, Quins can carry plenty of hope back for the return match at the Stoop in six days’ time.
A sun-kissed stadium in the south of France appeared to be the ideal setting for hot-stepping Quins to showcase their expansive offloading game with Fabien Galthie, the grand slam-winning France coach, watching on from the stands. But the first half turned into a harsh lesson for a side that had won their previous five Premiership matches. Tabai Matson, the Quins head coach, called Montpellier “the kickingest team in the French league” before the match. But the script in this clash of styles did not develop in the way he would have hoped.
The Premiership side enjoyed no shortage of field position and possession in a scoreless first quarter but a succession of knock-ons, inaccurate passes and some indifferent tactical kicking made it an intensely frustrating opening from the visitors’ perspective.
Marcus Smith had missed touch with a penalty in the first couple of minutes - which felt costly in such a significant game - but the number 10’s inaccuracy with the boot would bring a heavier punishment after Quins emerged from the opening 20 minutes with nothing despite their territorial domination. A speculative cross-kick by Smith was batted back by Kelian Galletier, with neither Lynagh nor Esterhuizen able to gather, and the ball popped up conveniently for the wing Gabriel N’Gandebe to race to the try-line unopposed.
The momentum decisively switched in favour of the French Top 14 leaders and, when Mercer pounced for a sniping close-range score after half an hour, things took an even worse turn for Harlequins when Esterhuizen was shown a yellow card for what was deemed a deliberate knock-on in the preceding phase.
After an attempted Danny Care kick rebounded off the considerable target of his teammate Joe Marler, Montpellier capitalised on the resulting gaps in the Harlequins defence and the front-rower Enzo Forletta popped up a lovely pass to an overlapping Mercer, who sped for the corner and touched down.
The scoreboard read 26-0 at half-time and, when Titi Lamositele forced his way over the line straight after the break, Quins were truly staring down the barrel at 34-0. Unlikely recoveries have become their speciality, though, and Harlequins finally got on the board 10 minutes after half-time when Smith found his range with a perfect grubber kick for Hammond to run on to and touch down.
Smith missed the tricky conversion but the five points were, at least, something to cling to. Smart thinking by Lynagh with a quick tap then allowed Esterhuizen to steam through a tackle and reach for the try-line and there was a smile on Smith’s face after he converted to bring it back to 34-12.
When Lynagh burst through the Montpellier defensive ranks and fed Marchant, the centre had plenty of work to do, but found his way to the try-line with a jinking run and Smith, again, added the extras. The Montpellier manager Philippe Saint-Andre demanded a TMO review for a potential forward pass by Lynagh, but the officials were happy.
The Springbok outhalf Handre Pollard came off the replacements’ bench to stroke over a couple of penalties but, when Lynagh streaked away to sprint under the posts and add Harlequins’ fourth try of the second half, the belief was visibly flooding back into the visiting players. With a 14-point deficit to overturn in the second leg, Matson’s side cannot afford to start so slowly a second time. But the comeback kings remain in this contest, and with much more than a puncher’s chance.