Montpellier, fired by a brace of tries from Australian full-back Jesse Mogg, sealed the first ever trophy in their history after beating Harlequins last night to lift the European Challenge Cup.
The result ensured there was no fairytale ending to Conor O’Shea’s reign at Quins, the Irishman now moving on to coach Italy.
Nick Evans got the scoreboard ticking over with an early penalty after a ruck infringement, with Montpellier’s Demetri Catrakilis responding almost immediately.
In a cagey opening period, Quins took the game to Montpellier but the French side, coached by Jake White, suddenly sprang into action with a fabulous try.
South African lock Paul Willemse broke a tackle and drove into midfield before being brought down. The ball was recycled quickly and the ever-alert Frans Steyn spotted a rush defence and unleashed a huge pass to Mogg, just on the pitch for injured Benjamin Fall, on the wing. Mogg swapped passes with Anthony Tuitavake to cross for a try in the corner that Catrakilis converted.
With alarm bells ringing that the match might be running away from Quins, Evans scored two penalties. Montpellier’s Fijian winger Timoci Nagusa had a try disallowed early in the second period but the Top 14 side got their due rewards after several minutes of pressure.
Montpellier too strong and too efficient plus they've got Bismark du Plessis. Easiest MOM decision of the season— Brendan gallagher (@gallagherbren) May 13, 2016
Replacement scrum-half Benoit Paillauge chipped to the corner for Mogg, who out-jumped Wales centre Jamie Roberts to cleanly take the ball and touch down for his second.
Harlequins’ Dutch-born Scotland winger Tim Visser fluffed a similar chip from Mike Brown at the other end of the pitch at Lyon’s Grand Stade to sum up their lack of attacking edge.
Catrakilis continued his kicking masterclass with a fourth penalty before Marland Yarde did well to scoop up a delicate Mike Brown grubber kick and cross the whitewash for a try converted by Ben Botica, who also nailed a penalty to set up a nerve-racking final five minutes.
But it all turned out to be too late as Montpellier held on.
Having decided to take on two high-profile and demanding roles while most opt for retirement aged 66, it seems pertinent to ask Wayne Bennett just why. What more is there to achieve for someone who has done, and won, it all in rugby league?
A decent winger and goalkicker, Bennett made appearances for Queensland and Australia before embarking on a coaching career in 1976 that has since defined him as the best there has ever been.
With seven Premierships – six during 20 years with the Brisbane Broncos and another with St George Illawarra – Bennett has also overseen triumphs for Queensland in the State of Origin series and, as assistant to Stephen Kearney, helped plot New Zealand’s shock 2008 World Cup win over his homeland.
As the Kangaroos beat the Kiwis 16-0 in last week’s trans-Tasman Test, Bennett was a keen observer.
Having returned to lead the Broncos again last year, Bennett had eight of his players involved. But, intriguingly, he also took note as the England national team coach, plotting their path to the 2017 World Cup to be held in Australia. And he remains as driven and focused about winning as when he first started out.
“The thrill of the next win, the fix, that’s what drives me,” Bennett told Sport360.
“It’s not about making history, or a trophy, no. I won’t do it if it’s not enjoyable anymore, or the challenge isn’t there, as I’d be letting a lot of people down. But it’s still there. The highlight for me has been doing it all for so long. I was brought up in a small country town in Queensland called Allora and my father played rugby league there.
“So these men were my heroes because we didn’t have the television back then and coverage of the game and that type of stuff. I loved those men and most of them have died, but I hope they will always be proud of what I’ve done because they were just proud rugby league people. They did it for the love of the game, played their hearts out.
“Listen, I just enjoy what I do. I’ve loved what I’ve been doing and kind of never worried about anything else. Going to work every day with enthusiasm and commitment, and helping young men around me to enjoy what they are doing too. There’s a pretty good chance of having success when you do that.”
Success has followed, but with a life of hardships. In his 2002 book, ‘Don’t Die with the Music in You’, he revealed how he “made a promise to his mother not to smoke or drink or gamble like his father” and joined the police force aged 15 to help support his two sisters and two brothers.
With two of his three children disabled, Bennett has since endured further challenges off the field. On it, his passionate, outspoken views, and refusal to shy away from tough or unpopular decisions, has seen Bennett widely referred to as rugby league’s equivalent of legendary football manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Both were dedicated to their professions, survivors and inspirational.
“I followed his career…know all about him,” says Bennett. “If that’s someone’s opinion, that I’m like Ferguson, that’s OK, but I’ve never compared myself to anyone. That’s been the challenge for me, to always do more than you’ve done before.”
While in Manchester for his England unveiling in February, Bennett couldn’t help observe what was happening at Old Trafford.
“I look at other sports coaches, absolutely, all the time,” adds Bennett, whose first post was at Ipswich before spells at Brisbane sides Souths and Brothers. “You don’t stop learning or observing how they do things. Good coaches, good managers, people who have success over a long period of time, they are not lucky.
“It’s not about luck if you have long-term success. So I look at those people, those organisations and what they have done well, what they haven’t done well.
“I look at the NRL in Australia and the teams that have the most success are the ones that have had long-term coaches. It’s getting players out there and getting them to do what you want them to do. Sometimes it takes more than one or two years.”
Bennett can testify that through his own experience. Before he joined newly-formed Brisbane in 1988, and turned them into the world’s best club side, he was under fire. It was similar to Ferguson when an FA Cup triumph in 1990 silenced his critics, and proved the launch pad for a remarkable trophy haul and 26 years at United.
“It was tough at the start, really tough,” recalls Bennett. “I was a young coach and it was the making of me.
“There was a big hunt to get me out and the chairman came out and told the media that he had just signed me on a life contract and I wasn’t leaving. They never worried me after that and the club went on to have some great success. But if he hadn’t done that then I don’t know where the club would have gone, or how my career would have gone.”
Bennett, though, would have kept fighting to fulfil his ambitions. Just like now as he looks to put the pain of last season’s Grand Final loss to the North Queensland Cowboys behind him and build another successful Broncos dynasty.
“I would never walk away from a job, it’s not who I am,” he adds. “Great organisations have a strong culture and they build from within.
“They get what they want from the outside, but always they build a foundation that’s not made of bloody sand and straw, but of bricks and concrete that’s strong.”
Trophies obviously help teams stand out, though, and Brisbane have notably not won the Premiership since Bennett led them to a 15-8 Grand Final win over Melbourne Storm 10 years ago.
They came so close to ending that drought last October when a golden point drop-goal from Johnathan Thurston clinched a 17-16 result for the Cowboys.
Having started the season strongly – currently joint-top in the standings and beaten the Cowboys 21-20 with their own extra-time winner – Bennett is keen to go a step further.
His side visit Manly on Saturday and he says: “For us, we know what we are capable of. We lost that final, but most times in big games, you don’t get beaten, you beat yourself. And we beat ourselves that night.
“Our challenge is to see if we can get ourselves back for that Grand Final and get it right this time.”
Bill Beaumont has outlined a five-point manifesto after being unanimously elected as the new chairman of World Rugby.
The former England captain, 64, will replace Bernard Lapasset on July 1, leaving behind his roles as chair of the Rugby Football Union and the Six Nations. His election was ratified at the governing body’s board meeting in Dublin on Wednesday, with both he and new vice-chairman Agustin Pichot standing unopposed.
Beaumont had previously filled the latter post from 2007 to 2012. Speaking after the announcement, he was quick to highlight the five most pressing matters of his tenure.
“These priorities are: continuing to protect players, preserving integrity, enhancing global competition, optimising partnerships and empowering and strengthening unions,” he said.
Concussion protocols have become a hot topic and, although there is a greater enlightenment on the topic than in Beaumont’s own playing days, he is keen to keep the issue firmly to the fore.
“It’s our responsibility to make sure we look after the whole player and not just for 80 minutes, but for life,” he said. “We have to make certain that we can make the game as safe as possible and that is by constantly reviewing the laws of the game looking at our management.”
Beaumont also spoke supportively of helping to make rugby sevens a success in the Olympics and vowed to keep anti-doping measures strong throughout the game.
“Doping is a concern for us all. I think what we have to do is keep educating our players,” he said.
Lapasset’s final significant act was confirming the pool draw for the 2019 World Cup would be held in May 2017. Japanese organisers had lobbied for the draw to take place in late 2016, keen to sell tickets for specific matches as soon as possible.
Rugby’s leading nations, however, were keen to push the draw as late as possible, to reduce the chances of another ‘pool of death’ such as the one that matched England, Wales and Australia in 2015.
“While the draw is closer to the start of the tournament this time around compared to the previous Rugby World Cup, it is necessary to conduct it well in advance for logistical reasons and to allow for an effective ticketing programme to be implemented,” said Lapasset.