A converted try in the final minute by Fijian Nike Goneva saw Leicester Tigers grab a 15-14 win over Montpellier Herault on Sunday and make them slight favorites to top their pool in the Heineken Cup.
The two-time champions trail Ulster by three points with two Pool 5 matches remaining, which sees them play pointless Treviso away before rounding off at home to Ulster at Welford Road, a venue where few away teams have won in recent years.
The Tigers looked down and out after Lucas Dupont had gone over for Montpellier’s second try of the second half, which was converted by Eric Escande for a 14-5 lead with just 17 minutes remaining, but Leicester, who had broken the deadlock with a Tom Youngs try after the first half had ended 0-0 for only the fourth time in the competition’s history, struck back through a penalty by replacement flyhalf Ryan Lamb.
However, entering the final minute they still trailed 14-8 until a fine passing move saw the ball end up with Goneva and he crossed the line before crucially setting up a far easier conversion attempt for Lamb closer to the posts by sidestepping a couple of Montpellier players.
Lamb converted leaving the Leicester squad dancing with joy, while for Montpellier — whose coach Fabien Galthie had sent out a starting XV featuring 14 different players from the previous weekend’s defeat in Leicester — it was a bitter pill to swallow.
Earlier on Sunday, Leicester’s English Premiership rivals Harlequins stayed in the hunt for a place in the quarter-finals while effectively knocking big-spending French side Racing Metro 92 out of contention with a clinical 17-3 victory in London.
Harlequins’ win completed the double over Racing Metro, who at least could console themselves with a more wholehearted performance than the limpid one in the 32-8 drubbing they took in Paris the previous weekend.
Harlequins trail Pool 4 leaders Clermont, who have 15 points, by four points with two games remaining — including the pair’s clash at Twickenham Stoop on the final weekend — while Racing are joint bottom with Welsh outfit Scarlets on six points.
Racing had shown their intent to try and turn things round by making 14 changes to their starting XV. Among those to come in were several international heavyweights, with Jonathan Sexton being paired for the first time with Mike Phillips, while the latter’s compatriots Jamie Roberts and Dan Lydiate also lined up.
Harlequins eased into a 6-0 lead thanks to two penalties by Nick Evans and the French side were reduced to 14 men when prop David Khinchagishvili punched Joe Marler and was fortunate to escape with just a yellow card from Alain Rolland.
Evans missed a penalty chance as the game neared the end of the first quarter, but the 33-year-old former All Black flyhalf made no mistake with another attempt to give them a 9-0 lead after 25 minutes.
The hosts scored a much deserved try on the stroke of halftime as dynamic 20-year-old Charlie Walker raced through to touch down and although Evans sent the conversion wide, they went to the changing rooms 14-0 to the good.
Evans was unable to retake the field after the break — he had taken a heavy knock midway through the first half, but soldiered manfully on — and was replaced by Ben Botica, who slotted over a penalty in the 52nd minute to make it 17-0.
Sexton — who had missed a penalty attempt in the first half — finally got Racing-Metro on the board with a penalty as the clock ticked onto the hour mark.
Sunday’s other game saw Scottish side Edinburgh play a far more intelligent game than their opponents Gloucester in dreadful conditions and pull off a surprise 16-10 win in England.
The defeat was a hammer blow to Gloucester’s prospects of overhauling Irish Pool 6 leaders Munster, who have a five-point lead after their breathtaking last-minute win over Perpignan on Saturday.