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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 31 May, 2020

Leinster produce their season's best to see off Montpellier in epic six-try tussle

Tries from Carbery, van der Flier, Henshaw and Daly help Cullen’s men to an opening weekend win.

Barry Daly goes over in the corner for Leinster's fourth try.
Barry Daly goes over in the corner for Leinster's fourth try.
Image: James Crombie/INPHO

Leinster 24

Montpellier 17

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS 

IN THE END, it came down to the last play of a frenetic and fast-paced contest, but Leinster were full value for all five points here as Leo Cullen’s men produced their season’s best right when it mattered.

And it was vintage Leinster, the eastern province at their swashbuckling best to see off a Montpellier side who just wouldn’t go away and very nearly snatched a share of the spoils at the death, largely thanks to the chaos caused by their monstrous wing Nemani Nadolo, who scored either side of the break.

But the hosts dug deep and stood firm to see out a win with their energy, intensity and unwavering work rate shining through and seeing them deservedly over the line ahead of next week’s trip to Glasgow.

They are very much up and running in Europe.

Even without Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien and Scott Fardy, who was a late withdrawal due to personal reasons, Leinster scored four tries — two in each half — and then withstood a late Montpellier onslaught with 14 men following Adam Byrne’s sin-binning.

It would have been a great injustice had Leinster thrown the points away because, for so long, they were superior in every facet of the game with man-of-the-match Robbie Henshaw, playing at 13, outstanding in both attack and defence while Ross Byrne, Joey Carbery, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan and Barry Daly were all superb. To a man, they rose to the occasion.

James Ryan, too, deserves a mention on the occasion of his European debut as he was drafted in at the last minute to deputise for Fardy and barely put a foot wrong during an entertaining and breathless game of rugby at the RDS.

Carbery started and finished Leinster’s breakthrough score and they assumed complete control of the contest when van der Flier dotted down for a second, but Montpellier kept coming back and scored twice through Nadolo to remain in touch and set-up a grandstand finish despite further scores from Henshaw and Daly.

Vern Cotter’s side sniffed blood with a numerical advantage for the closing stages but they butchered a gilt-edge overlap on this near side before Leinster showed immense composure in the circumstances to see the game out. It was tense, and the roar from the stands at full-time confirmed as much.

Robbie Henshaw celebrates scoring a try with Noel Reid and Adam Byrne Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Already without the presence and experience of Sexton and O’Brien, Leinster were then stripped of Fardy’s industry in the second row but they needed not worry because Ryan looked at home from the off.

His first intervention — collecting the loose ball after Montpellier spilled in contact — helped relieve early pressure on the hosts.

The other European debutant, Thomas Darmon, looked equally assured at out-half for the visitors with a couple of deft early touches a measure of his promise, although you can’t help but wonder how different the outcome would have been with Aaron Cruden in that pivot position instead.

As it was, Leinster worked tirelessly in defence, often doubling up on Montpellier’s big ball carriers in midfield, although Luke McGrath’s decision to continually kick down the threat of Nadolo on the left wing was questionable at best.

Montpellier, too, adopted a kick-chase strategy with the wind at their backs and had initial success as Carbery endured an uneasy start defensively but the fullback settled down and soon showed his class with another prodigious display with ball in hand.

After Ruan Pienaar, on his first return to these shores since his enforced and unsatisfactory from Ulster during the summer, pulled his first effort from the tee left of the posts, Leinster struck for the breakthrough score.

It was started and finished by Carbery.

Montpellier lazily pursued Jesse Mogg’s clearing kick and it allowed Carbery time and space to dance inside and create a yard of space for Byrne and then Henshaw down this near touchline. The visitors scrambled but Leinster recycled quickly and changed the point of attack with Byrne’s flat pass setting Carbery through a gaping hole in between Joseph Tomane and Nadolo to fly over in the corner.

Byrne’s conversion attempt from the touchline never had the legs or direction into a stiff breeze, but the outhalf, deputising for Sexton, was heavily involved when Leinster ran Montpellier ragged for a second time in quick succession.

Isa Nacewa linked with the lively Daly on the right, before the UCD winger popped it inside to Adam Byrne, who in turn took Leinster up beyond the 10 metre line with a powerful surge. Again, the hosts demonstrated patience to wear the French side down and it was left to van der Flier to put the head down and burrow his way over the whitewash from close range.

In complete control of the contest, Cullen would have been disappointed by the way his side briefly let Montpellier back into it on the stroke of half-time. McGrath’s decision to take a quick tap penalty inside his own 22 was reckless and gave the visiting backline the platform to run straight through Henshaw and Noel Reid.

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

Francois Steyn, for the first and only time in the match, got ball in hand and looped around the outside of Henshaw before scything through Reid, who had just come on for the injured Nacewa. Leinster managed to filter back and although they initially held Nadolo up on the line, the winger reduced the deficit from the next move.

But Montpellier, for all their bulk, were unable to contend with the energy Leinster brought and the province’s superior fitness levels cannot be overlooked as a contributing factor in this victory, with the visitors stretched left and right for large periods of the second half.

They gifted Leinster a third try three minutes after the break.

In the knowledge that Wayne Barnes’ arm was outstretched, Byrne looked cross-field for his namesake and the winger beat Mogge in the air, with the ball falling kindly for Henshaw off Nadolo and then Tomane to crash over from point-blank range. Byrne duly added the extras.

Henshaw was outstanding, both in attack and defence, all afternoon, typified by a superlative piece of work to stop Nadolo, scramble back and then rip the ball off Pienaar when Montpellier’s tails were up. It had the RDS on their feet, the cries of ‘Leinster, Leinster’ growing louder as the Top 14 heavyweights rallied.

But Leinster could only keep the door shut for so long as Montpellier’s sustained pressure eventually paid dividends, with the monstrous Nadolo again demonstrating all his power to bounce off tackles and crash over.

And so a helter-skelter duel ebbed and flowed. Game on.

Cullen unloaded his bench and Jamison Gibson-Park’s box-kick was gathered brilliantly by the leaping Daly, who then turned on the afterburners down the left to finish off a move involving the Byrne and that man Carbery again. Bonus point sealed and a bit of breathing space again, although a tense finale was still in store.

Jamison Gibson-Park tackles Nemani Nadolo Source: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Pienaar slotted a penalty between the posts when Leinster thought they had won the turnover and when Byrne was sent to the bin for a cynical knock down yards from the home line, the hosts were in danger of throwing the points away.

From the scrum, Montpellier moved Nadolo, the human battering-ram, into midfield and 14-man Leinster were in all sorts of trouble when they spread it out left but Carbery was quickly off the line to pressurise Timoci Nagusa into butchering an overlap in the corner.

A huge let-off for Leinster, but on the basis of their performance it was the luck they deserved to get across the line. A must win game? Boy, did Leinster win it.

Leinster scorers:
Tries: Joey Carbery, Josh van der Flier, Robbie Henshaw, Barry Daly
Conversions: Ross Byrne [1 from 3], Isa Nacewa [1 from 1]
Penalties:Montpellier scorers:Tries: Nemani Nadolo [2]
Conversions: Ruan Pienaar [2 from 2]
Penalties: Ruan Pienaar [1 from 2]

LEINSTER: 15. Joey Carbery, 14. Adam Byrne, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 12. Isa Nacewa (captain) (Noel Reid 35’), 11. Barry Daly (Fergus McFadden 79’), 10. Ross Byrne, 9. Luke McGrath (Jamison Gibson-Park 63’); 1. Jack McGrath (Cian Healy 47’), 2. James Tracy (Sean Cronin 47’), 3. Tadhg Furlong (Michael Bent 63’), 4. Devin Toner, 5. James Ryan (Ross Molony 63’), 6. Rhys Ruddock, 7. Josh van der Flier (Jordi Murphy 63’), 8. Jack Conan.

MONTPELLIER: 15. Jesse Mogg (Joffrey Michel 52’), 14. Benjamin Fall (Timoci Nagusa 64’), 13. Joseph Tomane, 12. Frans Steyn, 11. Nemani Nadolo, 10. Thomas Darmon (Benoit Paillaugue 56’), 9. Ruan Pienaar; 1. Mikheil Nariashvili, 2. Bismarck Du Plessis (Romain Ruffenach 78’), 3. Antoine Guillamon (Davit Kubriashvili 52’), 4. Jacques Du Plessis, 5. Nicholaas Van Rensburg, 6. Kelian Galletier, 7. Yacouba Camara (Wiaan Liebenberg 70’), 8. Louis Picamoles.

Replacements not used: 17. Yvan Watremez, 19. Julien Delannoy.

Referee: Wayne Barnes
Attendance: 15,995.

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Ryan Bailey

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