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Henshaw flourishes at 13, Ryan's European debut and more talking points from the RDS

Leinster are up and running in Pool 3.

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

LEINSTER SCORED FOUR tries and withstood a late rally from Montpellier to get their Champions Cup campaign up and running with a 24-17 victory at the RDS this afternoon.

You can read our match report here and post-match reaction from Leo Cullen here. Below, are three talking points from the Pool 3 clash.

Leinster rise to the occasion

Jamison Gibson-Park and Joey Carbery celebrate at the full time whistle Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

We all know the importance of winning your homes matches in this competition, and Leinster defied the loss of key players to duly deliver when it really mattered most.

Leo Cullen’s side had made positive progress in the opening weeks of the season but this was their best performance of the campaign by some distance, as they fronted up defensively and possessed a far more clinical edge in attack.

There were some outstanding individual performances but collectively the hosts, for large periods of the game, were far superior than their Top 14 opponents and probably should have killed it off before the tense finale.

To a man, they put their bodies on the line in the face of a physical onslaught from Montpellier and showed immense bravery and courage from start to finish to clinch a precious bonus point victory.

It’s still early days but this game could prove to be a defining one in context of Leinster’s season; they’re very much up and running now after two big wins in the space of seven days.

They conjured four tries, ensuring this afternoon’s work yielded the maximum return, and they were every inch deserving of it having brought an energy and intensity to proceedings while their fitness levels meant they were able to sustain it over 80 minutes.

Leinster needed every last sinew of stamina during a frenetic and tense closing 10 minutes but the roar which greeted Jamison Gibson-Park’s match-ending kick spoke volumes; this was a big win and sets the eastern province up nicely for the European season ahead.

Henshaw flourishes at 13

Robbie Henshaw presented with his man of the match award by Pat Maher Source: James Crombie/INPHO

On a day when so many of Leinster’s players stood up and produced big shifts, Robbie Henshaw was a class above.

Operating at 13, the Ireland international flourished with wider spaces to exploit outside him and, alongside Isa Nacewa, stretched Montpellier’s defence left and right during the first half.

His influence on the game grew as the afternoon rolled on and he was involved in the build up to Leinster’s breakthrough score as well as being on hand to finish their third after the ball fell into his arms.

Overall, his impact was huge and the statistics only tell half the story; 14 runs, 63 metres made, nine tackles and one crucial turnover when Montpellier’s tails were up.

Henshaw typified Leinster’s bravery and resilience, most notably when he was trampled over by Nemani Nadolo but managed to get back at the Fijian winger to take him down by his ankles. He then scrambled back to steal the ball off Ruan Pienaar at the breakdown, and the RDS rose to its feet.

His performance at outside centre will give Joe Schmidt food for thought ahead of next month’s Autumn internationals, particularly with Jared Payne yet to make his first appearance of the season and Garry Ringrose unlikely to be fit and available.

“I did enjoy it out there,” he said afterwards. “It’s been a while since I’ve played there. It was brilliant.

“I love playing in the centre. 12 or 13, anywhere at all. But definitely getting that bit of space on the outside and linking up with Joey and the wingers was nice. It was a bit of a change. I got a bit of outside break and was able to just have a go.”

Montpellier’s missed opportunity

Nemani Nadolo after the game Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

The whole complexion of this group could, and probably should, have been entirely different had Montpellier not completely butchered that last-gasp overlap in this near corner.

With Leinster down to 14 men following Adam Byrne’s sin-binning, the visitors sensed blood and had all the momentum at their backs but Timoci Nagusa somehow, and inexcusably, failed to offload to Joffrey Michel after Montpellier had manufactured a two-on-one.

Not only did the replacement spurn the initial opening, but his attempt to then release in contact was lost forward and Leinster survived with Vern Cotter’s side having to settle for a losing bonus point.

To be fair, that’s probably all they deserved on the overall balance of play.

“Honestly, we didn’t play the way we planned,” Nathan Hines said afterwards.

“We’re a bit disappointed with our structure of play and to be honest I think every time we tried to apply pressure we turned over the ball or a little bit of indiscipline cost us. We can’t afford to make those kind of errors especially against a team like Leinster who make you pay.

“We put a lot of energy into getting back in the game and you have an opportunity like that and don’t take it it’s frustrating but that happens. It’s not the only point in the game where we could have been better.”

The absence of Aaron Cruden was certainly significant but one suspects Montpellier will be an entirely different beast when Leinster travel to France in round six. They conceded 23 turnovers and save for the direct and brutal running of 130kg wing Nadolo, the Top 14 outfit didn’t offer a whole lot more.

They’re a team of giants, for sure, but Leinster were able to run them ragged in the first half and the hosts’ superior fitness levels ultimately shone through at the end of a breathless game of rugby. Montpellier played their part in the spectacle, but they also played a big part in their own downfall.

The big challenges keep coming for Leinster

Jack Conan and James Ryan with Nemani Nadolo Jesse Mogg Source: James Crombie/INPHO

Munster, Montpellier and now Glasgow; the big games are coming thick and fast for the eastern province but they’ll head to Scotstoun next week infused with momentum and confidence on the back of three straight wins.

There is also huge room for improvement and with Cullen optimistic over the fitness of Johnny Sexton and Sean O’Brien, Leinster may be back to something resembling full strength over the weeks ahead.

 

Even still, there is plenty of grounds for optimism after watching the likes of James Ryan, on European debut, and the rest of the club’s home-grown talent stand up and match everything Montpellier — an expensively-assembled squad — could throw at them.

Isa Nacewa and Henshaw were the only starters who didn’t come through the Leinster system and when you contrast that with the model adopted by today’s opposition, Cullen’s men are building nicely as the weeks progress.

Ryan was superb having been drafted in for Scott Fardy at such late notice and imposed himself physically from the very first minute when he gathered the loose ball to relieve early pressure on the Leinster line.

“We invest so much time with the younger players,” Cullen said. “We played fifteen academy players during the three pre-season games. It’s a huge part of what we’re trying to do because we need to be able to call on guys.

“Look at the power in that Montpellier dressing room and they’ve still a whole host of stars who didn’t even make the trip. So, that’s what we’re up against.

“Our guys just have to show really good positive characteristics and that they’re brave when they’re out there. It was far from perfect today but at least we’re seeing those positive signs.”

Onwards and very much upwards for Leinster.

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