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Bernard Laporte's Montpellier escape relegation by a whisker

Montpellier's French sport director Bernard Laporte (R) looks on ahead of French Top14 rugby union match between Montpellier Herault Rugby and Stade Toulousain Rugby (Toulouse) at The GGL Stadium in Montpellier, southern France on May 18, 2024. (Photo by Sylvain THOMAS / AFP) (Photo by SYLVAIN THOMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

2022 Top 14 champions Montpellier came within a whisker of shock loss in their Top 14 relegation playoff, where defeat would have meant demotion to the ProD2.

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Bernard Laporte’s side only overtook the lead of promotion hopefuls Grenoble in the 76th minute when Louis Carbonel converted a penalty to leave the final score at 20-18.

Montpellier, who had finished the season in 13th place, was forced to play a playoff match against FC Grenoble, the runners-up of the Pro D2 – who lost the championship against RC Vannes one week ago.

Patrice Collazo’s side scored an early try, with Ben Lam regathering the ball following a smart kick from Jan Serfontein, crossing the whitewash to give the lead to the visiting team in the Stade des Alpes. Welsh international Sam Davies added Grenoble’s first three points, but Montpellier exerted pressure and would find themselves inside the try-area once again, as wing Gabriel N’Gandebe dotted down. Louis Carbonel converted both tries.

With the home crowd on their shoulders, Grenoble turned the game around and on 25 minutes bounced back and caught the visiting side, managing to pull ahead. First, it was hooker Bernard Massa finishing a well-set maul, with Davies adding the extras and narrowing it all down to a 1-point game. The Welsh fly-half wore the magician hat as he found Terrence Hepetema on the wing with a spectacular cross-kick that took the Alpine team to the lead before half-time.

In the second half, Montpellier found a second wind but were repelled by Grenoble on a couple of occasions. With anxiety reaching a fever pitch, it would be the Top 14 side to add three more points to their tally, with Louis Carbonel punishing Grenoble for foul play at the breakdown.

Grenoble’s Sam Davies had the opportunity to again stretch the lead to 4-points, but couldn’t find the posts with his kick.

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With everything on the line, Montpellier ploughed on and after ten minutes of intense pressure, won another penalty at Grenoble expense, with Carbonel easily converting and delivering what would be the final score of the game.

Grenoble will stay another season in the Pro D2, but the efforts of the Alpine team to finish in the top-6 of the French second division after a six-point deduction was nothing short of astonishing.

Montpellier, who have signed Mohamed Haouas, Billy Vunipola, Nicolás Martins, and are rumoured to be close to an agreement with Madosh Tambwe and Stuart Hogg, have survived one of their worst seasons in the French top-flight after winning promotion back in 2003.

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