PARIS (Reuters) - Three tries in the opening 12 minutes secured a first ever Top 14 title for jubilant Montpellier as they defeated more fancied Castres 29-10 in a superb display of incisive attack and stoic defence at the Stade de France in Paris on Friday.
It was sweet revenge for Montpellier, who lost to the same opponents 29-13 in the 2018 decider but this time never looked like giving up the crown as their dominant first half effort laid the platform for a comprehensive win.
Wing Arthur Vincent, lock Florian Verhaeghe and fullback Anthony Bouthier all crossed for tries as the their early blitz provided the perfect send-off for retiring hooker Guilhem Guirado, the influential former France captain able to leave the game with his hands on a trophy.
Castres managed a consolation score with five minutes remaining through centre Vilimoni Botitu, but were left to rue a nervous and error-strewn start as they were bullied at the set-piece and the breakdown.
"We outperformed them massively and it was a great performance from the lads," Montpellier number eight Zach Mercer said at the post-match presentation.
"That's the best start we've had all season. The boys were passionate, every pass stuck. We were clinical. What an outstanding team this is, especially when you consider that last year they were fighting relegation."
Castres looked shellshocked as they failed to withstand Montpellier's onslaught and their start went from bad to worse when they lost flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta to injury inside 15 minutes.
But as woeful as Castres were, Montpellier were excellent at exploiting their opponents’ nervous beginning with slick handling and huge intensity in the collisions that set the tone.
They got the opening try when Vincent crossed in the corner after Mercer's superb grubber kick, with their second score a sniping effort from Verhaeghe as he dived over a ruck.
Rampant Montpellier got a third from their third visit to the their opponents’ 22 as Vincent fed Bouthier with a clever reverse-pass and they led 23-3 at the break.
Castres were much improved in the second half and camped in Montpellier territory, but scrambling defence and a lack of a clinical edge meant they were kept at bay.
It took until 75 minutes for them to finally got a try through Botitu, but by then the game had already been lost.
(Reporting by Nick Said)