A masterful display from WP Nel in the tight and the loose helped Edinburgh secure a Champions Cup quarter-final spot for the first time since 2012.
Prop Nel – named in Gregor Townsend’s 39-man Scotland training squad for the Guinness Six Nations this week – was a behemoth in the scrum as the Edinburgh front row dominated their Montpellier counterparts, winning a number of penalties in a hard-fought 19-10 win at BT Murrayfield.
In a game where the victor knew they would advance to the quarter-finals, man-of-the-match Nel was also a constant threat around the park – controlling Edinburgh’s driving mauls, making a joint-team high 13 tackles and even producing a showy between-the-legs offload to Henry Pyrgos to keep the ball alive at one point.
Eight of Nel’s 26 international appearances have come in the Championship and performances such as this could see him force his way into Townsend’s starting XV for Scotland’s opening match of the 2019 Guinness Six Nations against Italy on Saturday February 2.
His front-row counterpart Stuart McInally also impressed at hooker, while Edinburgh’s only try saw the international combination of Pyrgos pop to Darcy Graham to dive over on 60 minutes and the number of his Scotland squad who looked in form will be a boon for Townsend.
The only concern for the Scotland coach will be the health of flanker Hamish Watson, who was forced off with a hand injury on 28 minutes and his status will be one to monitor in the coming days.
Jack jumping for joy
Elsewhere, England call-up Jack Clifford produced a man-of-the-match display as Harlequins sealed their spot in the Challenge Cup quarter-finals by securing a bonus-point 33-17 win over Agen.
Sustained pressure in the Agen 22 saw Clifford go over under the posts after just five minutes to set Quins on their way and they never looked back to cruise through atop Pool 5.
The flanker impressed with ball in hand and at the breakdown at Stade Armandie and admitted his display capped off a pretty satisfying seven days.
“It has been a nice week,” said Clifford. “An unexpected England call-up and it is really nice to get back in the fold after a few months where it was not going so well.
“To get a try against Agen was really good. It was a frustrating end to the match but it was a much-needed win, we needed that bonus point and we are now looking forward to getting through.
“We have some key Premiership Rugby matches coming up, particularly at home, and we want to carry this momentum over and get cracking in the league.”