Captain Rhys Ruddock and Luke McGrath in action against Cardiff last month. Dan Sheridan/INPHO
Champions Cup

Big guns holstered as Leinster begin another European assault

Leo Cullen’s pack won’t use a complicated set of calls in Montpellier as they bring 11 Ireland internationals back in the side.

SEVEN DAY TURNAROUNDS don’t come much tighter than this.

Coaches can regularly be found bemoaning – or just plain moaning about – the strains of a six-day turnaround between big matches. It usually amounts to the loss of a training session, not to mention 24 fewer hours for each body to recover.

Most european clubs entering competition this weekend don’t have those exact time constraints, but they do have a sizable job on their hands to fast-track players back into club mode, club calls and cohesion after so many were away in international setups.

Leinster’s effort to mitigate against jarring their playing rhythm (and doubtless wear and tear for their front-line internationals) is to hold six Ireland stars in reserve. Crucially, particularly against a pack-led side such as Montpellier, Leo Cullen’s starting tight five today were able to train unbroken concentration on this match (kick-off 17.30, BT Sports) for the past fortnight.

So when James Ryan and Ronan Kelleher feature, they will hope to pick up leads rather than worry about about bringing glitches from the Irish line-out into their province.

“There is no point in me asking him or talking about Ireland calls,” said Devin Toner when asked to run a post mortem on Ireland’s set-piece struggles with James Ryan as caller.

“He’s got a lot on his plate so he has to switch back into Leinster quickly.”

Though Caelan Doris is the only forward to start for Ireland and Leinster in these consecutive weeks, Leinster will hope the transition between calls is made all the more straightforward by a concise list of line-out calls.

“It’s hard (to switch), but on the other hand it’s not,” adds Toner.

“The lads coming back are used to switching between the two things. Our calls are similar enough movement wise and stuff. We don’t have a dramatically different or large menu to go through, I’m not going to tell you too much but there is not too much to learn to be honest.”

No excuses against Guilhem Guirado and co. then?

“Really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a huge step up for us.

devin-toner Laszlo Geczo / INPHO Laszlo Geczo / INPHO / INPHO

“They’ve got a really good line-out defence which is unsettling with (Fulgence) Ouedraogo…  (Yacouba) Camara and (Nico Janse) van Rensburg, they’re very good at getting up in the air and disrupting, they’re very very athletic.

“And then lads who stay down and don’t jump up are massive. So they’ve got a pretty big pack. So we’ll have it up against us there.

“It’s hugely important for us as a team to click, Europe is only four games, we need every point we can get.”

That reason also makes this turnaround feels all the tighter. Ordinarily (and it doesn’t need repeating that ordinary and 2020 are sworn enemies) Irish provinces can afford to give players a good 10 days lead-in to a big European contest after they come out of international camp with a Pro14 fixture acting as buffer in between.

Competition openers can often prove crucial, but there are ways and means to salvage qualification prospects over five remaining games. A re-jigged, compacted group stage in the space of six winter weeks means the room for error is razor thin.

“It’s important that we go over to France with an attacking mindset and look to start well, because if you give Montpellier a start then it’s very hard to get it back,” says Luke McGrath, motioning to their win over Clermont last time out as proof of Montpellier form.

With 11 internationals dropping back in at Leinster, there is less sense in reading into their perfect seven bonus point-win start to the Pro14 season. Indeed, the strains Covid and a long international window has put on that league, the formbook would always have been digested with a generous pinch of salt.

Leinster’s own training ground is where the right tempo and intensity was to be set, said McGrath.

“We have nothing else to go off but ourselves, we have to concentrate on ourselves, get the guys back into training and back into our system and then we just have to give it absolutely everything on Saturday.

“With the new regime, every single point counts so be confident going over there but understand the threats that they have.”

He adds: “We’re well aware that it’s a huge step up this week and that’s why this week’s training… and even last week when the guys were away in camp, we were in for a bit last week and we’re well aware of the challenge that awaits us.”


15. Vincent Rattez, 14. Gabriel N’gandebe, 13. Yvan Reilhac, 12. Arthur Vincent (c), 11. Vincent Martin, 10. Alex Lozowski, 9. Benoit Paillaugue,

1. Grégory Fichten, 2. Guilhem Guirado, 3. Mohamed Haouas, 4. Bastien Chalureau, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. Nico Janse van Rensburg, 7. Yacouba Camara, 8. Jacques Du Plessis.

Replacements: 16. Bismarck Du Plessis, 17. Enzo Forletta, 18. Titi Lamositele, 19. Louis Picamoles , 20. Caleb Timu, 21. Louis Foursans, 22. Paul Vallée, 23. Axel Bevia,

Leinster Rugby

15. Jimmy O’Brien, 14. Hugo Keenan, 13. Robbie Henshaw, 12. Ciaran Frawley, 11. Dave Kearney, 10. Ross Byrne, 9. Luke McGrath,

1. Peter Dooley, 2. James Tracy, 3. Michael Bent, 4. Devin Toner, 5. Scott Fardy, 6. Rhys Ruddock (c), 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Caelan Doris.

Replacements: 16. Ronan Kelleher, 17. Cian Healy, 18. Andrew Porter, 19. James Ryan, 20. Ryan Baird, 21. Jamison Gibson-Park, 22. Johnny Sexton, 23. Dan Leavy,

Referee: Karl Dickson (England)

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