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Leagues: Ligue Un

Montpellier scrape through after Smith lets them off the hook


Paris (AFP) – Marcus Smith’s missed conversion for Harlequins less than five minutes from time allowed French side Montpellier to progress to the European Champions Cup quarter-finals with a 60-59 aggregate win over the English champions on Saturday.

It was rough justice on England fly-half Smith as his individual brilliance had sparked a come-back from 34-0 down in last Sunday’s first leg to lose 40-26 and then inspired them to a 33-20 victory on Saturday.

This victory came over a Montpellier side that started just two players (lock Paul Willemse and wing Gabriel Ngandebe) who also began last Sunday’s game. 

Huw Jones scored a try inside the first minute to give Harlequins the perfect launching-pad. 

Smith showed his genius on third try of an exhilarating first-half.

Former England scrum-half Danny Care brilliantly stopped a Montpellier kick going into touch and flicked a pass to Smith.

The 23-year-old burst out of his 22, eventually finding fellow England international Joe Marchant on the wing to touch down. Smith converted for 21-10.

Montpellier struck back almost immediately with a converted try  but the hosts who had the final laugh of the first-half as Louis Lynagh went over in the corner. Smith converted to lead 28-17.

After some sloppy exchanges at the outset of the second-half, Springbok fly-half Handre Pollard slotted over a penalty to give the French side a six-point aggregate lead.

Harlequins then exerted all the pressure and Montpellier’s discipline deteriorated.

Referee Mike Adamson lost patience after a series of scrums inside the five metre line and sent hooker Jeremie Maurouard to the sin bin with just over 10 minutes to go.

Although Smith had a try ruled out for obstruction there were no such doubts as Lynagh went over for his second try with less than five minutes remaining.

However, Smith fluffed his lines as he sent his conversion wide.

Montpellier await the winner of an all Top 14 clash between last season’s finalists La Rochelle and Bordeaux-Begles — the former won the first leg 31-13.

Champions Toulouse have a tough task later on Saturday as they trail hosts Ulster by six points and with key players, such as hooker Julien Marchand, injured.

On Friday night, James Lowe scored four tries for Leinster as the four-time champions cruised to a 56-20 win over Connacht on the night (82-41 on aggregate) and a place in the last eight.

They will face either Leicester or Clermont in the last eight — the English side lead 29-10 from the first leg.

Sale joined Leinster in the quarter-finals, beating Bristol 35-29 (44-39 on aggregate) despite playing a large part of the match with just 14 men after Arron Reed was sent off in the first-half.

Sale look set to face Racing 92 in the next round — the three-time finalists lead Stade Francais 22-9 going into Sunday’s second leg.

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