European Champions Cup Pool 3Montpellier (17) 24Tries: Tomane, Paillaugue, Nadolo 2 Con: Paillaugue 2Exeter (10) 27Try: Armand 2, Whitten Con: Steenson 3 Pen: Steenson 2
Exeter recorded one of the great European victories in their history as they overcame big-spending French side Montpellier on their home turf.
Flanker Don Armand twice burrowed over from close range and in between the flanker’s scores centre Ian Whitten sliced inside to cross.
Wing Nemani Nadolo twice crashed over for the hosts but with pivot Ruan Pienaar injured, they failed to click.
Gareth Steenson landed a 72nd-minute penalty to secure the landmark win.
Exeter underline credentials
Exeter have played only one knockout match in four previous campaigns in Europe’s elite competition, so are not stacked with pedigree at this level.
However, bolstered by their maiden Premiership title in May, they now look more than capable of going deep in the tournament and mixing it with the continent’s leading club sides.
After defusing on the opening weekend, Rob Baxter’s side delivered another cohesive, complete performance, with Armand industrious and effective in addition to his two tries.
Pool three – after two matchesPointsPts difference1. Leinster10232. Exeter8123. Montpellier3-104. Glasgow0-25
Henry Slade and Whitten won the midfield battle, while replacement forwards Elvis Taione, Harry Williams, Sam Simmonds and especially Alec Hepburn gave their side the edge in the final quarter.
But, as Baxter was quick to emphasis, it was the Chiefs’ collective strength that overcame the high-profile individuals in the home side.
With two wins and eight points to their name, Exeter are secure in second in Pool Three and the back-to-back meetings to come against leaders Leinster will further test their credentials as contenders.
Nadolo’s brittle brilliance
Montpellier’s players do not come much bigger in name or stature than Nadolo.
The imposing Fiji wing endured an at Sandy Park back in 2011 which was more notable for moments of controversy than brilliance.
Since then, via stints in Japan and New Zealand, he has emerged as one of the most devastating wings in world rugby.
His combination of pace, power and athleticism delivered Montpellier’s third try in the final play of the first half, dotting down in mid-air as he dived into the corner under pressure from Nic White and Steenson.
While Nadolo’s flimsy cover tackle failed to halt Whitten as the Exeter centre jagged back inside to level the scores at 17-17 shortly after the break, his wrecking-ball ability with ball in hand came to the fore again.
With Montpellier poised five metres out from the line, the 29-year-old slipped Tomas Francis with a nimble sidestep and then ploughed through Slade.
Qualification for the last eight is still achievable, with meetings against Glasgow to come, but the heavily-fancied Top 14 side have plenty of work.
“It was all passion, guts and commitment from Exeter.
“This was the sternest test of their season so far and they have come away with four points and, more importantly, a morale-boosting win for the club.
Whitten and Slade were immense in the midfield and the whole forward pack played out of their skins. Fitness and conditioning told in the end.
“It was a privilege to be here and see it in the flesh. Other people in Europe will look at this result and take notice. They are not Premiership champions for nothing.”
‘We can still be better’ – coach quotes
Exeter director of rugby Rob Baxter: “The guys stuck at it for long enough to force the win and we were brave. We said at the start we were going to go for it and sometimes we made things difficult for ourselves.
“But if you believe in something, that ultimately helps you to see tough games like this home.
“Against any good side you’re going to have periods when you’re up against it, but we never panicked or lost our shape.
“We knew over the 80 minutes we’d have some good moments if we kept the tempo high, but we can still be better.”
Montpellier: Mogg, Fall, Tomane, Steyn, Nadolo, Paillaugue, Pienaar, Nariashvili, Ruffenach, Guillamon, Du Plessis, Van Rensburg, Galletier, Camara, Picamoles.
Replacements: Michel for Mogg (70), Nagusa for Fall (51), Fichten for Nariashvili (64), Geli for Ruffenach (65), Kubriashvili for Guillamon (64), Delannoy for Camara (70), Liebenberg for Picamoles (65).
Not Used: Sanga. Sin Bin: Mogg (19).
Exeter: Dollman, Turner, Slade, Whitten, Woodburn, Steenson, White, Moon, Yeandle, Francis, Lees, J. Hill, Armand, Salvi, Waldrom.
Replacements: Chudley for White (74), Hepburn for Moon (48), Taione for Yeandle (59), Williams for Francis (48), S. Simmonds for Waldrom (51).
Not Used: Atkins, Hendrickson, Short.