Danny Wilson’s men had stunned the French giants six days earlier at BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park as they produced a stirring comeback to claim a bonus point win – and in France they came seconds from repeating the memorable feat after a display packed full of heart and desire.
An entertaining first half saw Rhys Patchell kick Cardiff Blues ahead before a clinical try from wing Alex Cuthbert stunned the home crowd.
The hosts found a way back into the game just before the break when wing Julien Malzieu raced in after a neat cross field kick found him in space.
The second half saw Cardiff Blues defend superbly for long periods and two penalties from Jarrod Evans looked to secure the points.
But in a dramatic finale the home side had a series of five-metres scrums before Paul Willemse dived for the line and was given the try by the TMO to leave Demetri Carakilis to kick the winning points/
Head Coach Danny Wilson made five changes ahead of the clash with Garyn Smith handed his European debut while Lou Reed, Manoa Vosawai, Tavis Knoyle and skipper Gethin Jenkins all returned.
Montpellier named a league of nations with 13 full internationals in their squad – including those from France, South Africa, Australia, Fiji, Georgia and Cameroon – and boasted over 350 international caps.
It was Cardiff Blues who settled the better and the first penalty of the night, after an illegal lineout drive, saw Patchell confidently slot the kick for a second minute lead.
Montpellier looked for an immediate response and thought they had a try less than 60 seconds later when centre Jim Nagusa flicked a pass to Ben Lucas who streaked over only for the score to be chalked off for a forward final pass.
Catrakilis drew the sides level before two sweet penalties from Patchell sent Cardiff Blues clear.
The home side were being starved of territory for long spells, but when they did force a turnover they attacked with direct runners before scrum half Nic White kicked in behind to force a combination of Alex Cuthbert and Tavis Knoyle to clear.
Catrakilis did reduce the lead with his second penalty of the night on 24 minutes only for Cardiff Blues to stun the home crowd three minutes later with the game’s opening try.
A poor box kick away from White was seized on by Jarrod Evans who raced back and into contact. Quick ball found Patchell and he kicked over the head of O’Connor and Cuthbert gleefully picked off the bouncing ball and slid over. Patchell slotted the touchline conversion.
Rattled Montpellier almost hit back as late call-up Lucas flew past two men and fed Malzieu, who was only stopped by a superb tap tackle from Rey Lee-Lo.
Home playmaker Catrakilis missed a simple looking penalty as he pushed a kick right. However, the home No.10 was at the centre of the home side’s opening try on 39 minutes.
A big lineout drive secured a penalty and with effectively a free play the fly half produced a beautifully weighted cross field kick to Malzieu who darted in to cut the half-time lead to 16-13.
Huge home pressure built at the start of the second half as Nagusa burst through to cause panic.
Young centre Garyn Smith produced a thundering hit to stop an overlap and certain score, before Lucas thought he had crossed only to lose control as he looked to ground the ball in the corner.
More drama saw the ball stripped, as the visitors looked to run the ball out, but once more the ball was lost as the home forwards looked to drive over in the shadow of the posts.
The growing tide of home pressure built and built and when Vosawai was yellow carded on 55 minutes a Montpellier try looked certain. But a huge defensive shift saw Cardiff Blues continue to hold firm despite being a man down with a brilliant rearguard effort.
Catrakilis slotted a penalty just after the hour mark to bring the teams level before Vosawai returned as the game entered the tense final stages.
The referee awarded a penalty for a no arms tackle on Vosawai, after consulting the TMO, to give young Evans the chance to put the visitors back ahead which he duly took.
Four minutes later another penalty, this time for side entry, gave Evans another kick from long range that he cleanly swept over.
Montpellier went through the gears in the closing minutes as they desperately looked for a try to swing the game back their way. The TMO ruled out one for held up as the home forwards burrowed up close.
But there was no coming back deep into injury time as Willemse managed to force the ball down – awarded after minutes of tension – and Catrakilis held his nerve to win the final with the final kick.
02m Patchell p 0-3
11m Catrakilis p 3-3
16m Patchell p 3-6
20m Patchell p 3-9
24m Catrakilis p 6-9
27m Cuthbert t Patchell c 6-16
39m Malzieu t Catrakilis c 13-16
62m Catrakilis p 16-16
69m Evans p 16-19
73m Evans p 16-22
80m Willemse t Catrakilis c 23-22
Cardiff Blues: 15 Rhys Patchell (Scully 63), 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Garyn Smith, 12 Rey Lee-Lo, 11 Tom James, 10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Tavis Knoyle (Williams 60); 1 Gethin Jenkins (Hobbs 60), 2 Kristian Dacey (E Lewis 60), 3 Taufa’ao Filise (D Lewis 32), 4 Jarrod Hoeata (Down 66), 5 Lou Reed, 6 Macauley Cook (Turnbull 70), 7 Josh Navidi, 8 Manoa Vosawai
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Dillon Lewis, 19 James Down, 20 Josh Turnbull, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Tom Isaacs, 23 Blaine Scully