Belfast Telegraph

Fabien Galthie and Montpellier turn focus to domestic joy

By Michael Sadlier

Last weekend they managed to carve themselves out a losing bonus point from Brive which was the bare minimum requirement from Montpellier's last Top 14 game ahead of, well, going through the motions of fulfilling their two final weekends of Heineken Cup action in Pool Five.

Indeed, matters domestic are really all that are focusing minds at Stade Yves du Manoir these days with their chances of replicating last season's Heineken Cup quarter-finals being thrown off course by October's home defeat to Ulster and then finally dashed on the rocks by losing their back-to-back clashes with Leicester Tigers.

In fact, that shock 25-8 loss to Ulster may well have had its effect on Montpellier as, since that day in October, they have only managed to win twice throughout nine games played in both the Top 14 and Heineken Cup, with the two positive results coming at home against Bernard Jackman's Grenoble and basement side Biarritz.

Yes, the only real show in town for head coach Fabien Galthie (pictured) and his off-colour squad is their domestic championship though now being in seventh is still not the worst place to be when you need to finish in the top six to make the play-offs.

Indeed there is only a solitary point between Galthie's side and Grenoble – who are currently in sixth – so there is plenty to play for after Montpellier take their final bow in Europe in next week's game with Treviso.

Already there is a sense that the next most important outing for the French club is when they host Bordeaux-Begles on the last weekend in January and that tonight's game at Ravenhill, along with next weekend's home clash with Treviso, will certainly be used to look at new combinations but will also be about just getting these games out of the way before the heavy artillery comes out for the Top 14.

At least Francois Trinh-Duc will be around domestically as he has been notably omitted from the Philippe Saint-Andre's Six Nations squad which only contains one Montpellier player in the shape of veteran Nicolas Mas.

But all that's for later, Galthie has shown his hand by leaving out Scotland international second row Jim Hamilton – though fellow countryman Johnnie Beattie gets a run-out – and massive Georgian flanker Marmuka Gorgodze for tonight's game while influential skipper Fulgence Ouedraogo remains on the injured list.

Indeed, the team reflects the head coach's thinking as Montpellier also come to Belfast without deploying Trinh-Duc, while All Black Rene Ranger is missing from the French midfield and former Ulster player Timoci Nagusa finds himself on the bench.

Indeed only full-back Anthony Floch, centre Anthony Tuitavke, Kelian Galletier and prop Maximiliano Bustos are retained from the defeat to Ulster back in October in a side that has even been substantially changed from last week with just Thomas Combezou and Kelian Galletier togging out in the starting team.

With one win from four pool games – and that at Treviso on the opening weekend – there is really little point in Galthie going all out to simply gain some pride in Europe.

But even though the results have not been good, there is one notable statistic to Montpellier's name and that is that they have made 39 clean line breaks which turns out to be more than any club in Europe.

Fair enough, but they have still clearly failed to turn these into all-important results which may be why Fijian sevens star Samisoni Viriviri has been signed up for next season to potentially take their finishing to another level.

In the meantime, though, they come to Belfast with little genuine expectation, though grizzled forwards coach Mario Ledesma is still up for a battle as he stated, "This is not the time to rest."

Maybe so, but Europe is no longer the priority.

Belfast Telegraph

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