Montpellier 13-29 Castres: Benjamin Urdapilleta and co pull off shock Top 14 triumph
Last Updated: 02/06/18 11:23pm
The boot of Benjamin Urdapilleta made the difference as Castres Olympique beat Montpellier 29-13 to claim a surprise Top 14 title on Saturday.
Urdapilleta slotted home five penalties and converted tries by Julien Dumora and Steve Mafi handed Castres their first title since 2013.
Montpellier, who finished the regular season in top spot, replied through penalties by Ruan Pienaar and Francois Steyn and a try by Jesse Mogg.
Castres, who finished the season in sixth place, had to go through a play-off tie on their way to the final.
Head coach Christophe Urios had warned his side were "laid back but ambitious" and so it proved against a star-studded Montpellier side for whom Pienaar and All Black fly-half Aaron Cruden were unable to dictate the flow of play.
Pienaar missed a fourth-minute penalty, but Urdapilleta made no such mistake a couple of minutes later to open the scoring at a packed Stade de France.
Montpellier were eventually on target in the 12th minute, as Bok centre Frans Steyn booted a three-pointer.
Urdapilleta, capped 10 times by Argentina, restored Castres' lead with his second and third penalties in quick succession in a close first quarter of a physical match.
Steyn went wide with a penalty effort from his own half, but Montpellier - with 10 of the starting XV foreigners (six South Africans, and one each from Australia, Fiji, Georgia and New Zealand) - were made to pay for a further indiscretion as the 32-year-old Urdapilleta booted his fourth penalty.
Pienaar pulled one back to make it 12-6, but Castres, with a stoic defence against a flat-footed Montpellier, delivered a hammer blow just before the break.
Boxed into their own 22, Montpellier botched the line-out with an untidy slapdown that went dead to gift Castres a 5m scrum.
Scrum-half Rory Kockott consequently worked his forwards, with Urdapilleta a decoy in the box for a possible drop-goal, but suddenly the nine moved the ball wide, before centre Thomas Combezou straightened and fed Dumora, who feigned a pass to scythe past a leaden-footed Fulgence Ouedraogo for a try. Urdapilleta hit the extras.
Montpellier, undoubtedly fired up by a rocket of a half-time talk from coach Vern Cotter - who lost three Top 14 finals with Clermont, took the game by the scruff of the neck at the start of the second period.
Castres held out as long as they could before first lock Loic Jacquet was yellow carded and then a penalty try was awarded as Montpellier took advantage of their numerical advantage in the subsequent scrum.
Remarkably, Castres then went on to retain possession through a long sequence of plays, running down the remainder of the 10 minutes Jacquet was in the sin bin. It ended with a high tackle on winger David Smith and Urdapilleta kicking his fifth penalty.
The misfiring Pienaar put another penalty wide after a charge by Alexandre Dumoulin, before spurning another chance to go to the corner.
That backfired, however, as Castres masterfully worked the line-out maul into touch.
Moving back upfield, Castres' Tongan replacement Mafi crashed over from close range to drive the nail into Cotter's hopes, Urdapilleta tellingly having the final word with a successful conversion to cap an outstanding individual performance.