Team in focus: Montpellier

This weekend sees the final game of the Northern hemisphere season, and we aren’t talking about the latest episode in the tiresome story of a washed-up Welsh 12. At 19:45 Irish time in the Stade de France, one of the more remarkable fixtures of the season will kick off – the heavyweights of Toulouse, looking for their 18th Bouclier, against Montpellier, appearing in their first ever final.

The story of Montpellier is a fascinating one. At the beginning of the season, many pundits had them tipped for relegation. The team were coming off a disappointing 10th place finish in 2009-10, prompting the replacement of the coaching staff and the retirement of key pivot Federico Todeschini.

Brought in to turn the team around were Eric Bechu, who coached unfashionable Colomiers to the final in 2000, and his former on-field general, and French scrum-half, Fabien Galthié. The coaching staff were not daunted, with Galthié proclaiming  “The first conclusion I can draw is that the team is young enough that it has the potential to develop”.

The coaching staff kept the nucleus of last years squad, with a couple of additions. Bechu went to Argentina for a bit of shopping, bringing back inside back Santiago Fernandez and outside back Martin Bustos Moyano, both of whom have been key players this season. Weighing in with 265 points, Bustos Moyano’s dead-eyed goal kicking has been a crucial factor in Montpellier lasting the pace. Providing the cutting edge out wide has been former Ulster folk hero Timmy Naguca, who has contributed 10 tries, a statistic which will shock all but the most blinkered of Ravenhill regulars.

With the local youngsters and unheralded imports superbly marshalled by Francois Trinh-Duc, the mix has worked very well. Not only was the goal of Heineken Cup qualification achieved, with a stylish last weekend  27-3 victory over boot merchants Toulon, but gutsy wins over Castres and, in one of the most exciting games WoC has seen, Racing Metro, have propelled them into the final.

Regretably for all who love rugby, team captain and hard ground lover Fulgence Ouedraogo has been ruled out with a fractured hand, leaving Montpellier shorn of their most important player and leader. This may make Saturday a step too far, especially with Montpellier-born and raised contact magnet Louis Picamoles in the opposing back row. Whiff of Cordite would love to see Montpellier go all the way, but suspects the aristocrats of Stade Toulousain might spoil the story. Still, its been a great ride, and the Racing game will live long in the memory.

Vive les Heraultains!

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