Montpellier 37 Chiefs 26

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Exeter Chiefs No.8 Sam Simmonds powers over for one of his three tries in the Heineken Champions Cup clash with Montpellier. Pictures: Getty Images

Montpellier 37

Exeter Chiefs 26

Mark Stevens at the GGL Stadium

Nobody needs any reminding about the try-scoring exploits of Sam Simmonds, but the Exeter Chiefs man can certainly feel hard done by that ended up the losing side across the English Channel.

With the No.8 set to check into camp with England ahead of the Guinness Six Nations tomorrow, the 27-year-old gave head coach Eddie Jones a timely reminder of his proven pedigree.

On his 100th Premiership and Champions Cup appearance, Simmonds helped himself to three of Exeter’s four tries at the GGL Stadium. In those two competitions, the Torquay-born forward has now bagged 75 touchdowns in 100 appearances.

It’s a staggering statistic, one which nobody in the modern-game is remotely near, but his efforts were in vain as Montpellier did enough to join the Chiefs in the last 16 of European Rugby’s premier competition.

The Frenchmen - who had been on the end of a record 89-7 loss at Leinster just seven days earlier - responded in style, claiming tries through Anthony Bouthier, Paul Willemse, Jan Serfontein, Cobus Reinach with Louis Foursans and Pierre Garbisi kicking the remainder of their points.

Having trailed to a Simmonds try inside the opening few minutes, the hosts hit back impressively to lead 21-5 midway through the opening half. However, the Chiefs responded valiantly, cutting they deficit with converted scores of their own through Simmonds again and another from Sean O’Brien on his European debut for the club.

On the stroke of half time, the visitors thought they had drew level when Scottish captain Stuart Hogg appeared to touchdown after gathering a high kick from Joe Simmonds. Initially, Irish referee Frank Murphy gave the score, only for it to be chalked off - somewhat surprisingly - following the intervention of the TMO.

Although behind at the turn, the Chiefs were quickly out of the traps on the resumption and they reclaimed the lead through Simmonds’ hat-trick score. Younger sibling Joe converted and Rob Baxter’s looked good for their money at that stage.

As both sides emptied their benches following this strength-sapping encounter, it was Montpellier who came through in the final quarter, former Northampton scrum-half Reinach picking off a pass from Sam Maunder to run the length of the field for their bonus point score.

The conversion to that score, plus a late Garbisi penalty, saw the hosts home and set them up for a last 16 encounter against current English champions Harlequins. For the Chiefs, they must now ready themselves for a two-legged affair against Irish opposition in the former of Munster.

Looking to build on their impressive victory over Glasgow Warriors last time out, Baxter stuck largely with a similar line-up for their final qualifier in Pool A. In the pack, Sam Nixon started at tight-head, whilst O’Brien came into the centre in place of Ian Whitten.

Montpellier, meanwhile, were much changed from the previous week and brought in a heavyweight pack to combat the threat of the Chiefs. Not that it was much good in the opening exchanges as Simmonds claimed his opening score, peeling round the front of a five-metre line-out to barge his way past Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Vincent Rattez.

It was a dream start for the visitors, but their lead proved short-lived as on 13 minutes the hosts edged in front, Bouthier given the simplest of scores following a dazzling break from winger Gabriel N’Gandebe, who slalomed his way through the heart of the Exeter midfield.

As Montpellier used their pack to dominate the set-piece, first Willemse ploughed over from a five-metre line-out, before Serfontein followed him over the whitewash, the centre finishing off a clever switch back move from the home side.

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Centre Sean O'Brien crosses for his first-ever Exeter Chiefs try

Foursans converted all three scores, before adding a penalty, as the French club stormed clear at 21-5 ahead.

Exeter’s response, though, was impressive and underlined the character that exists within the Devon ranks. Simmonds grabbed his second, powering over from close range again, before O’Brien got in on the act, picking off a loose pass from Enzo Forletta to claim his first score in Chiefs colours.

The quick fire double had ignited the Chiefs fires and they thought they had drew level on the stroke of half time though Hogg. The officials, though, deemed otherwise and it was Montpellier who held a slender lead at the turn.


Those two scores before the interval had clearly invigorated the visitors and they came out for the second half very much on the front foot. Early errors, though, were costing them dearly as there gilt-edged chances came and went in the blink of an eye.

Undeterred, Baxter’s side continued to push forward in numbers. Using a simple, yet highly effective pick-and-go game, they stretched Montpellier left and right. With over 20 phases accrued, the home dam finally burst, allowing Simmonds to rumble over for his hat-trick score.

Fly-half Joe Simmonds bagged the resultant conversion and the Chiefs were back in front, looking to kick on as the half continued.

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Captain Luke Cowan-Dickie leads the charge for the Chiefs

Montpellier, though, refused to go quietly and having soaked up a lengthy spell of further pressure from the visitors, it was there turn to once again flex their muscles in attack.

The Chiefs were happy to deal with the imminent threat, but when replacement James Kenny was pulled up by Murphy for holding on in front of his own posts, Forsans took the opportunity to put his side back in front with the resultant penalty.

Again, the Chiefs went back on the offensive, hoping their power and their fitness would put them back in front. They went through another lengthy catalogue of attacking phases but, just as they looked set to pounce, the lively Reinach read Maunder’s intended pass, picking out of the air and sprinting unopposed to the other end of the field for the score, converted by Garbisi.

Behind by two scores, the Chiefs were forced to chase the game in the dying embers of the match. Serfontein and Reinach both had potential scores chalked off, before Garbisi put the nail in the Exeter coffin with a successful penalty in the final minute.

Although disappointed to come unstuck, the Chiefs will resume European battle again in April, determined to make their mark on a Munster outfit who have a huge tradition within this very competition.

Montpellier: A Bouthier (P Lucas 30); G N'gandebe, Y Reilhac, J Serfontein, V Rattez; L Foursans (P Garbisi 67), G Aprasidze (C Reinach 52); E Forletta (R Rodgers 64), B Paenga-Amosa (G Guirado 52), M Haouas (H Thomas 64), B Chalureau (A Becognee 71), P Willemse, N Janse van Rensburg (F Verhaeghe 37), Y Camara (capt),Z Mercer.

Tries - Bouthier, Willemse, Serfontein, Reinach; Conversions - Foursans (3), Garbisi; Penalties - Foursans (2), Garbisi

Chiefs: S Hogg; J Nowell, H Slade, S O’Brien, T O’Flaherty (O Woodburn 72); J Simmonds, J Maunder (S Maunder 63); B Moon (J Kenny 61), L Cowan-Dickie (capt, J Innard 58), S Nixon (P Schickerling 46); S Lonsdale (D Armand 55), S Skinner; D Ewers (C Tshiunza 70), J Kirsten, S Simmonds. Replacement (not used): H Skinner

Tries - S Simmonds (3), O’Brien; Conversions - J Simmonds (3)

Referee: F Murray

Attendance: 5,000

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