Ulster reward for beating Montpellier is another trip to France

Clermont Auvergne await in the quarter-finals after a come-from-behind win

Montpellier v Ulster
Stewart Moore of Ulster during the Challenge Cup round-of-16 match against Montpellier. Picture: John Dickson/Sportsfile (John Dickson / SPORTSFILE/SPORTSFILE)

EPCR Challenge Cup round of 16

Montpellier 17 Ulster 40

ULSTER back-rower David McCann believes his side gained “lots of momentum” after defeating Montpellier 40-17 in France to send the Irish province into the quarter-final of the European Challenge Cup.

The scoreline flattered Richie Murphy’s team as they huffed and puffed to victory over a Montpellier side that at one stage was down to 12 men.

Paul Willemse was sent off for a dangerous high tackle and there were also three second-half sin-bins for the French outfit in an ill-tempered affair.

Both sides were forced into late changes prior to kick-off, with Montpellier losing former All Black George Bridge from the team they had named on Friday.

Ulster, meanwhile, were without Ethan McIlroy which brought Will Addison into the starting line-up, having not originally been involved at all, and Jacob Stockdale pulled out of the match day 23.

Murphy’s side started brightly but were often the masters of their own downfall in the opening period.

Full-back Addison knocked on behind his own try-line when retrieving a long kick, resulting in a five-metre scrum for Montpellier.

From this, the power of the French side was evident and it was Willemse who crashed over for the opening score from close range.

Soon after, Alex Becognee showcased his attacking skills with a clever pop-up pass for Aubin Eymeri to chip and collect his own kick to score Montpellier’s second.

Ulster clawed their way back just before the half-hour mark.

Rob Baloucoune was tackled short, but Addison pounced on the loose ball to dot down.

Louis Foursans added a penalty for Montpellier, sending the teams into the break with the home side leading 17-7.

The second half began with a dramatic turn of events. Willemse was sent off for a high tackle on Addison, giving Ulster a crucial advantage.  Capitalising on the extra man, Baloucoune crossed  in the corner to score just two minutes later.

Ulster dominated the scrum with the numerical advantage but struggled to convert possession into points until the hour mark. A series of penalties earned them a five-metre penalty that was tapped, and a powerful rolling maul set up replacement Scott Wilson for the try.

As tempers flared, Florian Verhaeghe and Vano Karkadze were sent to the sin-bin in quick succession, leaving Montpellier with only 12 men for just over nine minutes.

Moments after Karkadze was yellow carded for coming in at the side of the maul, David McCann claimed a close-range try and Cooney converted. There was still time before the end for Stuart McCloskey to race over and a penalty try to rub salt into the Montpellier wounds, while the French side also had Gabriel N’Gandebe sent to the sin-bin.

Speaking after the game, man-of-the-match McCann was happy to have turned the game around in the second half.

“I mean it was very tough at the start,” he said.

“It was very physical in the first half and I think our discipline let us down. At half-time we knew we had to be better and focused on getting faster line speed.

“We came out and changed our attitude in the second half and capitalised on the Montpellier red card.

“It’s brilliant to be in the quarter-final of the Challenge Cup. We probably played better against the Stormers last week but got nothing.

“But we have lots of momentum now going forward into next week.”