|Leicester (10) 17|
|Tries: Wells, Wiese Cons: Ford 2 Pens: Ford|
|Montpellier: (10) 18|
|Tries: Rattez, Goosen Con: Paillaugue Pens: Paillaugue 2|
Leicester Tigers missed out on a first European trophy in 19 years as Montpellier edged a feisty Challenge Cup final at Twickenham.
Vincent Rattez scampered on to his own kick to put the French ahead.
Leicester’s powerful pack and some astute kicking by George Ford helped Harry Wells and Jasper Wiese cross from close range when Montpellier were down to 14 men, putting Tigers 17-10 ahead.
But a penalty and a stunning Johannes Goosen try earned the French victory.
Only 10,000 supporters were allowed into Twickenham following the easing of Covid restrictions, but despite only sparsely populating the imposing London venue the fans created a constant and surprisingly noisy atmosphere and the intensity was matched on the pitch.
England fly-half Ford’s tactical awareness had been pivotal as Tigers established a 17-10 lead and they looked set for a first Challenge Cup victory, despite trailing 10-3 early on.
Ford unable to drive Tigers home
Ford’s slotted Tigers ahead but Montpellier’s positive start was rewarded when winger Rattez showed some nifty footwork of his own to cross.
Rattez ran onto fellow France international Anthony Bouthier’s cute kick and stretched out his hand to touch down ahead of Matias Moroni.
But Ford’s nous and precision kicking in a match dominated by the boot kept creating good field position and, although he missed his next penalty, Tigers drew level after Montpellier had Alexandre Becognee sent to the sin-bin for collapsing a maul.
An increasingly dominant pack produced a mighty drive and, with the French in total disarray, Wells crashed over from close range.
Injuries to winger Guy Porter and flanker Cyle Brink did little to interrupt Leicester’s flow and they led for the first time when Wiese bundled over from close range as the 14 men of Montpellier struggled to deal with the pace, power and dynamism of the Tigers forwards.
But the expensively assembled French side recovered impressively and scored the try of the game to earn a second Challenge Cup title, five years on from their first success in the competition.
They recycled possession from left to right superbly following a breathtaking break by Bouthier, eventually creating space for Goosen to cut inside and touch down for the crucial score.
Tigers responded in an increasingly fractious finale but were unable to force a penalty or a chance in open play to ensure their first major final since 2013 ended in a win.
Leicester director of rugby Steve Borthwick told BBC Radio Leicester:
“I think every Leicester Tigers supporter will be very proud of their team tonight.
“Montpellier are a quality team with the players they were able to bring off their bench in that last quarter and we put ourselves in a position to win it and we didn’t quite manage it. We’ll learn some lessons from that and we’ll work to make sure we’re a better team.
“Towards the end of that third quarter, we gave them too much field position and they’re very good when you do that and it cost us badly.
“If you look at the tournament we’ve used around 40 players and many have had their debuts, we’ve had some good wins away, but none of that makes up for how disappointed we are.”
Leicester fly half George Ford told BBC Radio Leicester: “At 50 minutes, we’d got ourselves a lead but they kicked themselves back into it and turned it into an arm wrestle for the last 15 minutes and it just didn’t go our way.
“There’s stages in games where you feel you’re on the front foot and you want to maximise those opportunities. That’s where we are though as a team, we’re getting in good positions in games but perhaps not being fully consistent when we’re there.
“We will learn and we definitely want to be back in finals and at occasions like this.
“It was honestly brilliant to have a crowd back and to feel the atmosphere again. We appreciate all the support with the Tigers fans who haven’t been able to be inside stadiums for the past 18 months and we hope many more can continue to come back.”
Leicester: Steward; Porter, Moroni, Kelly, Nadolo; Ford, Wigglesworth; Genge, T Youngs (capt), Cole, Wells, Green, Liebenberg, Brink, Wiese.
Replacements: Clare, De Bruin, Heyes, Henderson, Reffell, B Youngs, Henry, Murimurivalu.
Montpellier: Bouthier; Vincent, Goosen, Serfontein, Rattez; Lozowski, Paillaugue; Forletta, Guirado (capt), Haouas, Verhaeghe, Willemse, Ouedraogo, Camara, Becognee.
Replacements: B du Plessis, Rodgers, Lamositele, Duguid, J du Plessis, Reinach, Pollard, N’gandebe.
Sin-bin: Becognee, Guirado
Referee: Andrew Brace (Ire).
Touch judges: Frank Murphy (Ire), Chris Busby (Ire).
TMO: Brian McNeice (Ire).