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After a month without a game - Leinster are set to take out their anger on Montpellier today

Leinster were stung by the European Cup’s decision to award Montpellier a 28-0 win last month – they get their chance for revenge today.

Furlong has had little rugby in recent weeks.
Furlong has had little rugby in recent weeks.
Image: Bryan Keane/INPHO

NO EASY GAMES in Champions Cup rugby? Well, here’s one.

For all the talk about how straightforward it is for Leinster in the URC, it’s worth pointing out that they don’t often get overly tasked in the pool stages of this competition, either – winning their last 15 home games by an average of 26 points. Today’s opponents, Montpellier (kick-off 1pm, BT Sport), have won just one of their last 19 away Champions Cup ties.

So, yes, you can figure out where this is going. The only thing in the French side’s favour is Leinster’s recent inactivity. Neither Jack Conan nor James Ryan have played since November, Caelan Doris has played just 113 minutes of rugby in that timeframe, one minute more than Tadhg Furlong has managed.

Jamison Gibson-Park, Ireland’s first choice scrum-half in November, has had just one game since for Leinster, Ronan Kelleher tasting just 78 minutes of action, Andrew Porter 88, Garry Ringrose a comparatively busy 140.

And yet this doesn’t seem like a crisis, firstly because Montpellier are dealing with Covid issues of their own and secondly because tinkering with their line-up is what Leinster do on an ongoing basis. Mix and match are words heard as often in their team room as ruck and maul.

If Leo Cullen was prepared to go into successive Pro14 finals with their captain on the bench then be under no illusion that they won’t land in the RDS this morning with any sense of panic. Why should they? Leinster have used Ross Byrne twice as often as Sexton in the last five years, indeed Sexton has played only 28 minutes of Champions Cup rugby this season and last.

ross-byrne-takes-a-kick Byrne has played 111 games for Leinster. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

A first glance at the backline reminds you of who is missing, Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and James Lowe – but two of those are on the bench, there if needed in a crisis. It’s safe to predict there won’t be one. Montpellier have three teenagers in their squad. They may have a good team but most of their best XV have been left in France.

So Leinster should be right for this. Even looking at their supposed inexperienced players, you can’t spot a weakness. Ciaran Frawley, their inside centre, is surely about to become an international in 2022, while there is a false impression that Jimmy O’Brien is untested. This, in fact, will be the wing’s 39th cap for Leinster.

So, yes, they are missing a couple of players but they’re well used to that. It happens every week.

“The thing Leo has done really, really well over the years,” Leinster CEO, Mick Dawson, says, “is his ability to keep players happy. He’s got a way of ensuring lads get sufficient game-time each season, so, so many get 16 or 17 games a season. He manages his squad well.”

That’ll come in handy today. For sure, Montpellier have a good name but only in Top14 terms. They won the Challenge Cup last season but have never really done anything noteworthy in this competition.

When they showed interest against Exeter in Sandy Park last month, they controlled chunks of the first half with the speed of their recycling, the compactness of their defence, the tidy attacking patterns they set, the general intent they showed.

Then, by the time Exeter tuned in, it was a different story. The Chiefs’ second half against Montpellier was like Leinster’s first half against Bath that same day. Sloppiness turned to accuracy. They conceded fewer penalties at the breakdown while their directness allowed them find holes in what had been a pretty well organised Montpellier defence.

The French club, like Leinster, have not a game for a while – over a month in Leinster’s case, two weeks in Montpellier’s. On top of this a couple of their players took a holiday last month ahead of that Exeter game so what does that say about their ambition in Europe? They came into that Exeter game with five wins on the bounce. They lost 42-6.

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jonny-gray-scores-his-sides-second-try-11122021 Exeter beat Montpellier 42-6. Source: Ryan Hiscott/INPHO

Five tries were conceded after the break, just one before it, Exeter’s renewed intensity causing the damage. So, Leinster know what they have to do if they are to improve their head-to-head record in this battle to six wins, one draw and one defeat.

They won’t have trouble. When you look who is missing for Montpellier: Paul Willemse, Mohamed Haouas, Jeremie Maurouard, you just can’t help sensing that not only will Leinster win but win well. They’re smarting from European Rugby’s decision to award Montpellier a 28-0 win for last month’s cancelled fixture. Expect them to take that anger out on their guests.

LEINSTER: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose, Ciaran Frawley, Jimmy O’Brien; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, James Ryan capt, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan. Replacements: Dan Sheehan, Cian Healy, Michael Ala’alatoa, Rhys Ruddock, Max Deegan, Luke McGrath, Johnny Sexton, James Lowe.

MONTPELLIER: Axel Bevia; Pierre Lucas, Thomas Darmon, Karl Martin, Josua Vici; Louis Foursans, Gela Aprasidze; Mikheil Nariashvili, Guilhem Guirado capt, Henry Thomas, Tyler Duguid, Mickael Capelli, Masivesi Dakuwaqa, Florian Verhaeghe, Marco Tauleigne.

Replacements: Vincent Giudicelli, Robert Rodgers, Titi Lamositele, Alexandre Becognee, Aubin Eymeri, Paul Vallée, Nico Janse van Rensburg, Zach Mercer,

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

About the author:

Garry Doyle

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