Northampton lose again as Nemani Nadolo helps keep Montpellier hopes alive
Northampton slumped to their fourth defeat in six Champions Cup pool matches after going down 26-17 to a Nemani Nadolo-inspired Montpellier in France.
The giant Fijian back created one score and crossed for two individual efforts of his own with the Saints unable to cope with his raw power in the contact area.
Tries from Kelian Galletier and Jacques Du Plessis came either side of Nadolo's first score to put the home side in command and when the man of the match completed his brace late on, Montpellier were home and dry.
Demetri Catrakilis added three conversions, with Northampton's response coming through tries from Lee Dickson and Tom Kessell and seven points from the boot of JJ Hanrahan.
While Northampton bid farewell to the competition as the bottom-placed side in Pool Four, Montpellier's bonus-point success means they can still qualify for the quarter-finals as one of the three best runners-up, if results go their way on Saturday.
Northampton made nine changes with a place in the quarter-finals well beyond them and it was Montpellier who started the game with a bang.
Nadolo's power game is well known, but on this occasion it was his precision passing which gave his team an early lead.
Attracting three Northampton tacklers, Nadolo bounced one and then offloaded out of the tackle with a sublime flick to release Galletier to score in the corner, with Catrakilis adding the extras.
At that stage the Saints were up against it, but after Montpellier lost Alexandre Dumoulin to injury and failed to make the most of their possession, Jim Mallinder's men hit back.
From a scrum, powerful surges from Teimana Harrison and Ethan Waller splintered the French defence, allowing scrum-half and captain Dickson to sneak over from close range. Hanrahan converted and then kicked a penalty and, despite being under the cosh for the opening quarter, Saints turned around with a 10-7 half-time lead.
Mallinder's side thought they had added to their advantage at the start of the second period too after a set-piece move saw Ahsee Tuala break clear.
The full-back sprinted for the line and found George North inside him, but after referee John Lacey consulted the TMO, the score was ruled out for Tuala's foot in touch.
Harry Mallinder then put a monster drop goal effort wide, before Nadolo continued to wreak more havoc.
Given the ball tight to the touchline, Nadolo looked a long way from the line but he bounced off five tacklers - North the last - to power over for a score eerily similar to that by the late Jonah Lomu against England at the 1995 World Cup.
That 50th-minute try was followed by a driving line-out try for replacement Du Plessis and with Catrakilis converting both efforts, Northampton were up against it at 21-10 down.
Montpellier did not let up their assault as they chased the vital bonus-point score and Nadolo powered over from a scrum to seal the win late on.
Catrakilis missed the conversion and Kessell grabbed a late consolation try for Saints, converted by Hanrahan, but it is Montpellier who will now have to wait and see if they make Europe's last eight while Northampton concentrate solely on domestic action.