United Kingdom

London Irish pay for Augustin Creevy red card as Zach Mercer Montpellier fights back

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London Irish lost their first Champions Cup game in a decade despite leading 24-8 against Montpellier at one point, with the combination of Agustin Creevy’s first half red card and a clinical second half by the visitors, including two tries for Thomas Darmon, securing a bonus point win for the French side.

Argentina’s flanker Juan Martin Gonzalez led the show in the first half, scoring two tries as Irish took a well-deserved 24-13 lead into half-time. But playing with 14 on the field and better intentions from Montpellier changed the direction of the game as the visitors scored three tries in 13 minutes with Zach Mercer, named player of the match, becoming more prominent.

With the temperature dropping to minus three degrees Celsius, this was not a night for Benhard Janse van Rensburg to expose his bare bottom, but despite the cloakroom malfunction, his early carry cleared the way for Paddy Jackson to open the scoring with three points .

After an earlier miss, Louis Carbonel leveled Montpellier before the French side’s vigorous scrum set off a penalty converted by Carbonel meaning the visitors took the lead. But after Enzo Forletta’s yellow card for killing the ball reduced Montpellier to 14 players, it was the Irishman who produced the first try of the game, Gonzalez going close to the posts after a quick tap from Ben White.

Forletta’s absence eventually became costly. After a Gonzalez lineout, Ollie Hassell-Collins cut through the defence, with Creevy sending off Lucio Cinti for a London Irish try in Argentina.

The hosts’ momentum was then stopped by a red card for Creevy for a dangerous tackle that made contact with Anthony Bouthier’s head. But Irish was better in the breakdown and line-out, earning a healthy half-time lead, a second try for Gonzalez after Ben Loader broke away clearly to give the hosts a 24-13 lead after Cobus Reinach’s try ended the first half.

Unsatisfied with a run of tries, Gonzalez also briefly assumed lineout throwing duties during Creevy’s absence, as the hosts looked for a bonus-point try. Instead, Montpellier were next to score, Darmon finishing an overlap wide to reduce Irish’s lead.

However, the effects of that red card from Creevy began to show, with Montpellier controlling territory and possession as he continually broke more tackles. Mercer, the No. 8 who soon headed to England with Gloucester, achieved more success and with London Irish stretched again, Alexandre Bécognée scored to put Montpellier ahead, recovering from a 24–8 deficit.

A second ahead of Darmon secured the bonus point and put Montpellier in full control, with Irish wilt. But to his credit the hosts threw everything at Montpellier in the dying minutes, only for the visitors to come up with a timely scrumping penalty to escape near their own line.

Had Hassell-Collins’ foot not found the touchline as he dove for the corner it might have been a close finish, but Montpellier held on, with a late Rory Jennings penalty meaning Irish at least a bonus point secured.

Team data

London Irish: Loader, Cinti Luna, Joseph, Janse Van Rensburg, Hassell-Collins, Jackson, White, Gigena, Creevy, Chawatama, Simmons, Coleman, Rogerson, Gonzalez, Fa’aso’o.
Replacements: Willemse, Fischetti, Hoskins, Munga, Cunningham-South, Powell, Jennings, Morisi.

Montpellier: Bouthier, Lam, Darmon, Garbisi, Bridge, Carbonel, Reinach, Forletta, Paenga-Amosa, Haouas, Verhaeghe, Chalureau, Camara, Becognee, Mercer.
Replacements: Langdon, Tuinukuafe, Lamositele, Doumenc, Coly, Tisseron, Dakuwaqa, Tauleigne.

Referee: Andrea Piardi (FIR)