Newcastle Falcons found themselves overpowered by a hugely physical Montpellier side in Saturday’s Heineken Champions Cup clash on the southern French coast.
Trailing 12-3 at the interval and offering plenty in both attack and defence, it was just not enough as a star-studded home side kept open their quarter-final aspirations, putting their foot on the accelerator after the interval.
The Falcons began the game playing at a furious pace, running the ball from deep inside their own half and looking to keep it in hand at every opportunity.
They were showing similar aggression in defence, forcing a midfield knock-on through their eager line speed and stealing a line-out near their own try-line when a penalty on the 22 was kicked into touch.
Montpellier gradually grew into the game and enjoyed a period of pressure in the Newcastle 22, Simon Hammersley preventing a certain try with a man-and-ball hit as Ruan Pienaar spun the ball wide after a patient period of pick-and-go yielded no result.
Their first try eventually arrived on 16 minutes when a half-break and simple hands down the right freed Fijian Timoci Nagusa to score in the corner, Pienaar slipping on the sandy surface in his attempted conversion as the deficit stayed at five.
Hammersley almost hit back with a try for the visitors after some speedy kick-chase work down the right, only for his attempted offload to go forward, but his side got on the board when Toby Flood sent over a simple penalty from bang in front of the posts after a period of red-zone attack.
Gary Graham showed a fair turn of pace to scramble back and make a try-saving tackle on his own 22 following an attack from turnover ball, and Montpellier were almost in again when centre Arthur Vincent broke free, only to knock on in attempting an ambitious overhead pass.
The sizeable contingent of travelling supporters were certainly making themselves heard as they offered vocal backing in no short supply, but their side were two tries down on 32 minutes despite a period of heroic goal-line defence, the ball eventually spun to the right for Yvan Reilhac to score, Pienaar adding the touchline conversion.
Newcastle kept plugging away and were close to a try when a penalty was kicked to the left corner, Kyle Cooper breaking from a front peel but his side finding themselves penalised during the ensuing period of pick-and-go.
A Josh Matavesi line-break and another line-out in the corner came and went without affecting the scoreboard, Newcastle trailing 12-3 at half-time despite showing plenty of enterprise.
The home side registered a third try nine minutes after the resumption of play when they kicked a penalty to the right corner, the ball spun infield for France new-boy Paul Willemse to crash over.
Pienaar again added the conversion, doing so for a third time on 56 minutes when Henry Immelman crossed for the bonus-point try in the left corner following five-metre scrum.
The punishment got worse on the hour when lock Nicolaas Janse van Rensburg crashed over down the right for another converted try, and with Newcastle pushing the envelope by running it from inside their own 22, the hosts poached another try when Immelman intercepted to score in the left corner.
That took Montpellier to the 40-point mark, Romain Ruffenach returning from the sin bin to score their final try, but the Falcons did at least manage the last say of the day when Zach Kibirige chased down a Tom Arscott grubber to score in the left corner two minutes from time.
Newcastle Falcons: 15 Simon Hammersley (Zach Kibirige, 43), 14 Vereniki Goneva, 13 Chris Harris, 12 Josh Matavesi (Brett Connon, 58), 11 Tom Arscott, 10 Toby Flood (captain), 9 Sonatane Takulua (Michael Young, 54); 1 Adam Brocklebank (Sami Mavinga, 40), 2 Kyle Cooper (Santiago Socino, 60), 3 Trevor Davison (Jack Payne, 65), 4 Will Witty, 5 Glen Young (Calum Green, 40), 6 Gary Graham (Callum Chick, 60), 7 John Hardie, 8 Ryan Burrows.
Falcons scorers - Tries: Zach Kibirige. Penalties: Toby Flood.
Montpellier: 15 Frans Steyn, 14 Timoci Nagusa, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Yvan Reilhac (Jan Serfontein, 43), 11 Henry Immelman, 10 Johan Goosen (Vincent Martin, 69), 9 Ruan Pienaar (Benoit Paillaugue, 65), 1 Grégory Fichten, 2 Vincent Giudicelli (Romain Ruffenach, 56), 3 Jannie Du Plessis (Levan Chilachava, 43), 4 Nico Janse van Rensburg, 5 Konstantine Mikautadze (Paul Willemse, 43), 6 Kelian Galletier, 7 Kevin Kornath (Fulgence Ouedrago, 45), 8 Louis Picamoles (captain).
Montpellier scorers - Tries: Timoci Nagusa, Yvan Reilhac, Paul Willemse, Henry Immelman 2, Nicollas Janse van Rensburg, Romain Ruffenach. Conversions: Ruan Pienaar 4.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)