Castres 17 (14)
Montpellier 18 (9)
Underdogs Montpellier have won through to their first-ever Top 14 semi-final after winning 18-17 at Castres on Saturday afternoon.
Fabien Galthié's side, who were making their play-off debuts, were given little chance of victory at the Stade Pierre Antoine, but they held their nerve and kicked their penalties to win out despite being outscored by two tries to none.
Their victory also ended Castres' season-long unbeaten home record - they had won all 13 previous league games here - with club icon Romain Teulet missing three crucial kicks.
Montpellier, who were twice temporarily reduced to 14 men, will now go on to play Racing-Métro 92 in Marseille on May 28 as they seek to keep their remarkable season alive to the final denouement.
Castres may have had an inkling of what was to follow when Teulet missed an early long-range penalty, but the home side didn't have to wait long for their first points as flanker Ibrahim Diarra touched down in the fifth minute.
Diarra was on hand for a simple run-in after the ever-influential Iosefa Tekori broke from 25m before passing on to Uruguayan lock Rodrigo Capo-Ortega. The latter duly drew the last man and set Diarra in for the game's opening try, which Teulet converted.
Montpellier fought back with a Martin Bustos-Moyano penalty on eight minutes, and they grew in confidence as the game progressed. Just before the half hour they gained further momentum when Castres hooker Mathieu Bonello was sin-binned after not retreating from a quickly-taken penalty. Bustos-Moyano was on target again with the resultant penalty, and he then kicked Fabien Galthié's side into the lead when he landed a further three-pointer on 32 minutes.
But just as it seemed the tide had swung in the visitors' favour they were undone by a yellow card of their own when Argentine prop Juan Figallo was sin-binned after huge Castres pressure near their try line. The hosts opted to take a scrum rather than kick the straightforward penalty, but former All Black Chris Masoe was stopped short after trying to burrow over on the blind side.
Castres continued to push and once Bonello was back on they enjoyed overwhelming superiority in the scrum, with a penalty try eventually being awarded in the 40th minute after the Montpellier front row imploded. Teulet's conversion made it 14-9 at the break, much to the delight of the Stade Pierre Antoine faithful.
Leading try and point-scorers in Top 14
The second half began again at a frantic pace and this time it was Montpellier who appeared to benefit, with Argentine Bustos-Moyano making it five successes from six as he landed penalties in the 44th and 48th minutes to put the visitors back in the lead.
Castres had an almost immediate opportunity to reply when Teulet was presented with a 35m penalty on 50 minutes, but the diminutive full-back uncharacteristically missed his second effort of the afternoon to leave Montpellier just ahead at 15-14.
But the visitors were soon undone by further ill-discipline as lock Aliki Fakaté became their second player to see yellow, this time for a high tackle on Sérémaia Bai that saw tempers flare. Teulet made it third time lucky as he slotted the resulting penalty, and Castres once more tried to make their numerical advantage count.
Another kickable penalty was spurned in favour of going for a third try, but it failed to materialize, and Castres then tested the Montpellier defence with several minutes of concerted close-in pressure. But the visitors refused to crack and once Fakaté was re-admitted they put in their own forward surge to earn Bustos-Moyano yet another shot at goal.
The 25-year-old held his nerve to land his sixth success of the match and Montpellier stole back into a one-point lead with just nine minutes remaining.
That should have been enough time to create another scoring opportunity, and so it proved as the hosts were awarded a 43m penalty on the left with just one minute remaining. Normally you put your chapeau on Teulet slotting the kick, but the man they call 'Robocop' fired yet another blank as their dreams of progression were terminated once more at the quarter-final stage.
Twelve months ago Castres were swept aside 35-12 by Stade Toulousain, and it was further quarter-final anguish for their respected coaching duo of Laurent Labit and Laurent Travers. The squad strengthening will continue for another go next season, with the likes of Scottish international Max Evans adding further quality, but for now it is Montpellier who must be lauded for a deserved, if unexpected win.
Just one week ago they were heading into a must-win home game against moneybags Toulon with confidence jilted by two successive defeats. Now they are heading for Marseille and a semi-final showdown with Racing-Métro 92 at the Stade Vélodrome as they go in search of their first-ever final.
||Diarra, Penalty Try