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Montpellier reach last four of Challenge Cup with Benetton victory

By PA
Paul Willemse is returning to Montpellier after injury scuppered his World Cup hopes with France (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

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Montpellier reached only their second ever European semi-final after edging out Benetton in an entertaining 31-25 victory in the Challenge Cup.

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The contest proved to be a head-to-head battle between Montpellier scrum-half Benoit Paillaugue and Benetton fly-half Paolo Garbisi as the pair dominated the scoresheet at the GGL Stadium.

Paillaugue edged the tie in the French side’s favour with 23 points to 20-year-old Garbisi’s 22 as Montpellier joined Bath, Leicester and Ulster in the last four.

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The 33-year-old Frenchman scored two tries, two conversions and three penalties, with Paul Willemse also crossing, while Anthony Bouthier added a first-half drop-goal.

Garbisi kicked five penalties as Benetton trailed 21-15 at the break, but he scored and converted his side’s only try as the Italians took an early second-half lead, with Tommy Allan adding a consolation set-piece late on.

Garbisi opened the scoring with a penalty inside two minutes but home kicker Paillaugue levelled proceedings with one of his own, only for Garbisi to kick the Italian outfit into a 6-3 advantage after six minutes.

Paillaugue ran in the first try from the back of the ruck in the 11th minute but Benetton hit back when Willemse was sin-binned for an offside and repeated fouls, with Garbisi landing the resulting penalty.

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Willemse returned to the field before Bouthier put Montpellier back in front with a drop-goal, with Garbisi and Paillaugue trading further penalties as the hosts kept their noses ahead.

Garbisi’s fifth penalty kick of the half put Benetton into a 15-14 lead but Willemse made amends for his infringement with his side’s second try, which Paillaugue converted.

The young Italian scored Benetton’s only try in the 45th minute, which he converted, to put his team into a one-point lead but Paillaugue responded with his second score.

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He converted for a 28-22 lead before adding a penalty on the hour mark, with Allan replying with one of his own for a six-point game.

Montpellier flanker Yacouba Camara was sin-binned with five minutes remaining to set up a tense finale but the Top 14 side held on for only their second last-four appearance and first since winning the competition in 2016.

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Montpellier reach last four of Challenge Cup with Benetton victory

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