Paolo Garbisi and Anthony Bouthier both landed drop goals as Montpellier defeated Bordeaux-Begles 19-10 on Saturday night to set up a Top 14 final with Castres.
Castres sealed their place in the silverware showpiece on Friday by ending Toulouse’s title defence despite the best efforts of France stars Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont.
France centre Arthur Vincent was making his first start since October for Montpellier after recovering from a serious knee injury in a game littered with Les Bleus internationals.
A frantic opening to the contest in Nice saw Maxime Lucu kick the first points before Vincent Rattez – a try scorer in France’s 2020 Championship win over England – cross for Montpellier.
Italy fly-half Garbisi provided the assist for Rattez’s try before slotting a clinical drop goal, but Lucu levelled the scores after France playmaker Matthieu Jalibert scored following a 30-metre break.
But France full-back Bouthier repeated Garbisi’s trick just before half-time as his drop goal ensured Montpellier went into the interval with a narrow 13-10 advantage.
And two more long-range penalties from the boot of replacement scrum-half Gela Aprasidze after the restart ensured Montpellier progressed to the Top 14 final at the Stade de France.
The defeat for Bordeaux-Begles brought down the curtain on the careers of former France internationals Louis Picamoles and Francois Trinh-Duc, who played their final game.
“The essential was to win, in a pretty way or not, we don’t care,” Bouthier said after the game. “Knockout rugby is about knowing taking the points when on offer.”
In Friday night’s game, Toulouse saw their Top 14 title defence fall short as Castres came from behind at half-time to stun the reigning champions with a 24-18 triumph.
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Toulouse hit the ground running as they took the lead through France wing Matthis Lebel following an incisive pass from fellow Les Bleus international Thomas Ramos.
Ramos and Castres fly-half Benjamín Urdapilleta then traded penalties before Toulouse were reduced to 14 men after Australian lock Rory Arnold saw yellow for a high tackle.
Argentinan playmaker Urdapilleta added two more penalties ahead of the interval to make it a one-point game before Castres took the lead for the first time after the restart.
Santiago Arata’s try was quickly followed by Ntamack crossing for the champions, with further penalties from Urdapilleta and Ramos making it 19-18 with 10 minutes to go.
But it was Castres who held their nerve in the final moments as Fiji wing Filipo Nakosi set up Julien Dumora for the match-winning try to knock out Toulouse.