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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Montpellier: Who ARE those guys?

In the movie "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", as Butch and Sundance are being tracked by a persistent posse, Paul Newman's character mutters several times "Who ARE those guys?"

For people who follow French Rugby, they must saying "Qui sont ces mecs?" regarding Montpellier. It's a nice town that I know very well from studying there almost 30 years ago, and where I saw a couple of Rugby World Cup games with my son back in 2007. (USA-Tonga and Tonga-Samoa)

Back when I was studying in Languedoc, Montpellier was not even a blip on the rugby scene in France. Their neighbors down the road in Béziers were THE dominant force in French Rugby in the 80's. At that time, most rugby supporters in Montpellier were fans of Toulouse, Béziers or Narbonne.

Well, 30 years later, Béziers now sits in the 3rd tier of French rugby, and Montpellier now finds itself in the French Semi-finals for the very first time, after dumping Castres on the road over the weekend. François Trinh-Duc and his mates now face a road trip to Paris to play Racing Metro for a shot to play for Le Bouclier de Brennus (Brennus' Shield) at the Stade de France against the winner of Toulouse-Clermont Auvergne in the other Semi-final. Perhaps even more importantly for Montpellier is that by finishing in the top six, they qualified for the first time ever for the Heineken Cup-ahead of some French Clubs with deeper wallets and better pedigrees like Perpignan and Stade Français.

Racing, the runners-up in the regular season of Top 14 Rugby, have an international line-up with a lot of familiar names like Chabal and Steyn. Racing have to be the clear favorites, but in a one-off match, anything can happen. Can Montpellier continue it's magical run this weekend? Rugby fans there will make the road trip to see if the party will continue on in June in St. Denis at the Stade de France...

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