The National Times - Harlequins fightback gives them hope after Montpellier onslaught

Harlequins fightback gives them hope after Montpellier onslaught

Harlequins fightback gives them hope after Montpellier onslaught
Harlequins fightback gives them hope after Montpellier onslaught

Montpellier will be kicking themselves despite beating English champions Harlequins 40-26 in their Champions Cup last 16 first leg clash on Sunday as they at one point led 34-0.

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The French league leaders dominated the first 50 minutes with two former Premiership stars ex-Saracens prop Timi Lamositele and backrow forward Zach Mercer, once of Bath, among the try-scorers -- the latter grabbing a brace.

After looking set to take an overwhelming advantage to England for the second leg they allowed Harlequins hope.

Driven on by England fly-half Marcus Smith, Quins ran in four tries in the final half hour.

Back row forward George Hammond set the ball rolling touching down a Smith kick, before South African Andre Esterhuizen, and his centre partner England international Joe Marchant touched down.

Full-back Louis Lynagh -- son of former Wallaby legend Michael -- rounded off their try spree running 80 metres with an interception two minutes from time.

"It wasn't perfect, but winning with forty points against the English champion is good," said Mercer. "But for next week, it's 0-0."

Philippe Saint-Andre's side still hold a 14 point lead as they go in search of only a second last eight appearance and a quarter-final against either last season's finalists La Rochelle or Bordeaux-Begles.

"I see the glass as half full," said Saint Andre.

"We played fifty minutes almost perfectly...We are at the halfway point of this confrontation. We're going to recover. We're going to prepare well."

But Harlequins, given their recent habit of comebacks, can also dream of winning a knockout encounter for the first time in this competition.

"I'm trying to be optimistic, but we are only half-way and there is absolutely a belief that we can pull a rabbit out of the hat next week," said Quins coach Tabai Matson.

On Saturday, La Rochelle's conquerors in last season's final Toulouse slipped to defeat at home to Ulster.

Robert Baloucoune bagged a hat-trick of tries to help Ulster notch up a memorable 26-20 victory.

The Ireland winger shone not only in attack but also as part of a strong defensive showing against a star-studded Toulouse side boasting 10 of France's Grand Slam-winning squad.

However, the hosts played with 14 men for 70 minutes of an entertaining match after a red card for Argentina winger Juan Cruz Mallia.

La Rochelle look set for the last eight and give coach Ronan O'Gara bragging rights over his bitter rival Bordeaux-Begles handler Christophe Urios.

La Rochelle sauntered to a 31-13 victory over Bordeaux-Begles.

O'Gara was involved in a bad-tempered touchline spat with Urios last weekend when La Rochelle ran out 16-15 victors in the Top 14.

Urios aimed a slap at the Irish rugby great, later dubbing him an "insufferable" trouble maker.

Elsewhere, Gael Fickou scored the only try as Racing 92 beat city rivals Stade Francais 22-9, a feat mirrored by Fiji's Semi Radradra in Bristol's 10-9 victory over fellow English Premiership club Sale.

Scotland captain Stuart Hogg was a try scorer as Exeter racked up the sole home win in Saturday's action with a hard-fought 13-8 triumph over Munster.

Four-time champions Leinster had kicked off the action on Friday with a 26-21 win over fellow Irish province Connacht.