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Leinster know the only way to tame Montpellier is to keep hold of the ball

Leo Cullen’s men will need to be disciplined in possession in order to starve the French side of attacking platforms.

Devin Toner in Leinster's UCD headquarters this week.
Devin Toner in Leinster's UCD headquarters this week.
Image: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

LEINSTER WILL INSIST they treated last weekend’s Munster game on its merits, but it doesn’t take a rugby tactician to work out that the game plan they employed at the Aviva Stadium was very much with eye one on the considerable challenge which lies ahead.

Ball retention will be of paramount importance for the eastern province when they welcome Montpellier to the RDS on Saturday, essentially with the aim of starving the French’s side dangerous half-back line of possession. Limit the danger, limit the damage.

On more than one occasion last week, Johnny Sexton turned down the chance to exploit the space in behind Munster’s defensive line, instead opting to keep the ball in hand, go through the phases and maintain discipline. They know the key to taming Montpellier will be to do the same.

Because any loose kicks or unstructured play will allow Montpellier to flex their muscles and potentially give the likes of Ruan Pienaar and Aaron Cruden the ball to pull the strings and pull Leinster apart. And then there is Nemani Nadolo, the giant Fijian winger who can be devastating with a sniff of space.

Leinster know all this because they faced Montpellier in the Champions Cup pool stages last year too, and Devin Toner says they can ill-afford to let the Top 14 side run at them from deep.

“They’re a similar enough team,” the second row said. “Obviously their 8, 9 and 10 axis is going to be huge for them and they’ve a massive pack so that’s a massive test for us.

“We did pretty well to get back and get the bonus point [away last year] and then in the RDS we had a good day against them. I think in the RDS we just got our defence right and got in their face, made them make mistakes and we captialised on it.

“Everyone is talking about how big they are, how physical they are and how they’re going to bludgeon us again but I think once we get our accuracy right at the set-piece and get our roles right then we should be okay.

Devin Toner The Ireland international speaking to the media. Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

“If we keep hold of the ball and don’t throw any 50-50 passes or give them the chance to counterattack, that’s one of their strengths as well. Pienaar is able to see so much space, he’s just a smart player. And then obviously Nadolo on the outside who will tear shreds out of you but as you say just keep hold of the ball.”

As Toner touched on, getting your set-piece right against any French side in Europe is going to be essential if Leinster are to harbour any hopes of getting their campaign up and running in the right fashion.

Huge improvements were made at line-out time last Saturday and with former Leinster lock Nathan Hines now part of Montpellier’s coaching team, Toner admits it will play a big role in deciding the outcome of the contest.

“From the forwards point of view, we lost so many line-outs against Edinburgh, our accuracy wasn’t great and we put a lot of effort going into last weekend because obviously we knew we had to. We’re really happy with how our line-out and maul went so overall we’re pleased.

“I think they are going to have a really well drilled forward pack, Nathan is part of their coaching set-up now, he will have a really good insight into myself and how I call a line-out.

“He will know how we play as a team so he will have them prepared well. But he’ll have something up his sleeve. Whether it’s a move around the front or a move around the back. He’ll have a good insight into how I call line-outs and will tell them how to come up against us but that’s something I’m going to have to have in the back of my head.

“We have to focus on ourselves first and getting our accuracy right then we will worry about them.”

Nathan Hines is tackled by Beb Foden Nathan Hines is part of Vern Cotter's coaching staff. Source: Colm O'Neill/INPHO

Toner is expected to partner Scott Fardy in the second row again and he says the Australia international has brought a huge amount to a group which is excited to kickstart their Champions Cup campaign at home.

“He’s brought a whole load of experience and obviously has played a lot of rugby in his years,” the 31-year-old continued.

“He’s got a view to the back-row as well as the second-row and has brought a good few ideas around line out time. He never stops talking as well, always in your ear telling you what to do and a real confidence builder being beside you.

“Overall everyone is really happy. There’s a huge enthusiasm in the squad this week and obviously a different mood around Europe. We’re raring to go.”

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