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Exeter reach last 8 on countback after incident packed Montpellier draw

By PA
Zach Mercer getting sent off by referee Andrew Brace - PA

Exeter reached the Heineken Champions Cup quarter-finals on try count after extra-time following a dramatic 33-33 draw with Montpellier at Sandy Park.

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Hooker Jack Yeandle’s touchdown in the final seconds of 20 minutes’ added time put Exeter within striking distance, then Joe Simmonds’ nerveless conversion meant Exeter progressed 5-4 on tries.

French champions Montpellier, despite having their England international number eight Zach Mercer sent off following a high challenge 10 minutes after half-time, dug deep to almost turn a pulsating clash their way.

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Fly-half Paolo Garbisi levelled the game at 26-26 through a long-range penalty with the final kick of normal time, then Montpellier replacement Louis Carbonel touched down midway through the second period in extra-time, and Garbisi converted, but Yeandle and Simmonds had the final say.

Exeter looked well set after tries from Scott Sio, Sam Simmonds, who will join Montpellier next season, Tom Wyatt and Josh Iosefa-Scott left the visitors reeling, while Joe Simmonds kicked four conversions.

Exeter impressively wiped out an early 12-point deficit given to them through tries by replacement hooker Curtis Langdon and wing Vincent Rattez, while Garbisi ended with three penalties and two conversions, with lock Lenni Nouchi also touching down.

It was an outstanding effort by Exeter, especially given their early difficulties in counteracting Montpellier’s physical approach.

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The Chiefs will make a fourth Champions Cup quarter-final appearance – they host South African challengers the Stormers next weekend – as they continue to put erratic domestic form to one side in pursuit of a second European title.

Wyatt was among seven Exeter changes following last weekend’s Gallagher Premiership defeat against Bath, with the likes of centre Sean O’Brien and Lock Jonny Gray also starting, while Will Becconsall replaced injured scrum-half Sam Maunder.

Montpellier were captained by full-back Anthony Bouthier, leading a side that included ex-Bath forwards Mercer, Henry Thomas and Elliott Stooke.

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The visitors suffered an injury blow inside three minutes when hooker Brandon Paenga-Amosa limped off and was replaced by Langdon, who immediately made his presence felt.

Exeter could not clear from inside their 22 and Montpellier created enough room for Langdon to touch down just 50 seconds after joining the action, with Garbisi landing a wide-angled conversion.

The Chiefs were at sixes and sevens, with Montpellier punishing them again through an eighth-minute try for Rattez that was set up initially by Stooke’s powerful charge into the Exeter 22.

Exeter Montpellier
Exeter crash over for a try – PA

It was a lightning start by the French champions, but Exeter admirably retained their composure and established a lengthy spell of territorial dominance inside Montpellier’s half.

And that pressure was rewarded through a 23rd-minute score for Sio that Simmonds converted, bringing Exeter back into the contest at 12-7 adrift.

The revival continued five minutes before half-time after Montpellier flanker Masivesi Dakuwaqa was yellow-carded by referee Andrew Brace for a technical infringement.

Exeter did not require a second invitation to make their temporary one-man advantage count as Sam Simmonds crashed over from close range and his brother’s conversion put Chiefs ahead for the first time.

But Garbisi made the final contribution of a gripping first-half when he kicked a 20-metre penalty to hand his side a 15-14 interval advantage after Exeter’s England centre Henry Slade was sin-binned for a deliberate knock-on.

Montpellier thought they had extended their lead early in the second period, but Mercer saw a try ruled out for midfield obstruction during build-up play.

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And it proved to be Mercer’s final legal contribution to the game as he was sent off just two minutes later following a high challenge on Exeter and Wales back-row forward Christ Tshiunza.

Garbisi kicked his second penalty midway through the third quarter, but Exeter regained the initiative and Sam Simmonds’ powerful break ended with Wyatt finishing brilliantly as Chiefs moved back in front.

Exeter continued to enjoy supremacy after Mercer’s exit and Iosefa-Scott scored their fourth try 15 minutes from time that seemingly sealed Montpellier’s fate, with visiting centre Thomas Darmon seeing a 73rd-minute touchdown disallowed before Nouchi’s effort and last-gasp Garbisi strike took it to extra-time and more guaranteed drama.

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