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Top 14 club-by-club 2020/21 season preview: Montpellier

Handre Pollard of Montpellier. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Montpellier finished eighth in the Top 14 in their first season under Xavier Garbajosa. He’s cleared out a lot of talent to make way for a younger squad – but how will his difficult second season play out? 

Key signing

Cobus Reinach. With Ruan Pienaar gone, Montpellier needed a new nine. The South African will feel right at home alongside Handre Pollard, Bismarck and Jacques du Plessis, Henry Immelman and Jan Serfontein. A nod, too, to Vincent Rattez, who is reunited for former La Rochelle boss Garbajosa.

Key departure

Nemani Nadolo. The Fijian winger is the biggest name – ahead, just, of Jim Nagusa – among the 14 to leave the GGL. Leicester have themselves an instant crowd favourite. 

They say

“We had a slightly ageing squad, it was important to rejuvenate it. And then this season with the French internationals, we lacked depth … we recruited 70% French players and we hope to give some playing time to all these youngsters with high potential.” Sporting director Philippe Saint-Andre (France 3)

We say

Montpellier have a problem. It’s not the stumbling first season of head coach Xavier Garbajosa. He’s trying to retro-fit sexy rugby back into the club’s engineering. That was always going to take time, as it did for his former La Rochelle compadre Patrice Collazo, now at Toulon.

Sexy rugby returns

Garbajosa’s difficult first season – complete with eighth-place finish – is done. After an adjustment campaign with an inherited team, he has the chance, with the support of new director of sport Philippe Saint-Andre, to reshape the squad in his image.

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Important to note, it’s more French. Seven of the club’s senior squad 10 recruits are French, as are five of the six new Espoirs (academy) squad.

Nor is the problem the number of players – notably Anthony Bouthier, Yacouba Camara, Gabriel N’Gandebe, Arthur Vincent and Paul Willemse – likely to be on France duty for large portions of the new season. 

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The summer recruitment and retention programme largely covered positional gaps international call-ups will create.

Montpellier’s European rugby problem

The problem, in fact, is out of Montpellier’s hands. And it’s a European one. 

An eighth place Top 14 finish usually means Challenge Cup rugby the following season. This time it still might not. If the Champions Cup is reformatted in the 2020-21 season to an eight-pool 24-team competition, as has been suggested, Montpellier hold the final French place so could end up playing Champions Cup rugby, after all. Unless, that is, Castres Olympique, who finished 10th in the Top 14’s coronavirus-curtailed campaign, lift the Challenge Cup in October. Then Montpellier would have to give up that last extended Champions Cup slot.

Chances are Montpellier would qualify for a one-off expanded Champions Cup competition. Castres face a quarter-final trip to Leicester, where new coach Steve Borthwick will be out to make an instant impression with a new squad of his own.

Style and strength

But, until Castres are out of Europe, Garbajosa cannot plan fully for a season which starts long before he knows who his European opponents – in a currently unknown European competition – will be. 

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For all that uncertainty, expect to see rather less boom-boom rugby from Montpellier. This squad promises style as well as strength.

Arrivals: Enzo Forletta; Titi Lamositele; Yannick Arroyo; Florian Verhaeghe; Mickael Capelli; Alexandre Becognee; Cobus Reinach; Vincent Rattez; Alex Lozowski; Julien Tisseron

Departures: Johannes Jonker; Konstantine Mikautadze; Julien Bardy; Lucas de Coninck; Kevin Kornath; Kahn Fotuali’i; Enzo Sanga; Francois Steyn; Nemani Nadolo; Timoci Nagusa; Benjamin Fall

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Flankly 10 hours ago
Resilient Irish will test Springboks despite provincial setbacks

The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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