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Leinster's attacking game looks in good health despite lengthy lay-off

The province played some superb rugby against a poor Montpellier side on Sunday.

James Lowe ran in Leinster's 13th try.
James Lowe ran in Leinster's 13th try.
Image: Billy Stickland/INPHO

YOU IMAGINE LEINSTER won’t pore over yesterday’s Champions Cup win against Montpellier with the usual forensic detail.

The province will have learned little about themselves over the course of such a facile victory, and Leo Cullen admitted as much when asked to give his immediate reaction to that record European win, his team stuffing the French side 89-7 at the RDS.

But there will of course be elements of the performance which will have pleased the Leinster head coach.

It can be difficult to hit the ground running following such a lengthy lay-off, and even though Montpellier sent over a desperately under-strength squad for the game, Leinster gave them no time to settle into the contest, taking the initiative to kill the game as early as possible.

The hosts looked sharp right from kick-off and played with an impressive level of intent, moving the ball through the hands at speed and causing Montpellier real problems with their superior workrate. 

A final haul of 13 tries is not to be sniffed at, and Cullen will have been encouraged to see his team keep the foot down in the second period, having watched them ease up in a similar situation against Bath last month.

Garry Ringrose was at the heart of much of their best play, while Jordan Larmour had some clever involvements before being forced off with a dead leg. Jamison Gibson-Park was key to keeping the tempo high and the uber-reliable Josh van der Flier showed a nice turn of pace in scoring two second-half tries. The list goes on.

Leinster finished with 140 carries, 19 clean breaks, 20 offloads and 40 defenders beaten, but the stats only told half the story. Even taking into account a porous Montpellier defence, some of their attacking play was simply sumptuous, the cohesion and interplay on display all the more impressive given their long, unanticipated lay-off. 

“Yeah, I think it’s credit to the players as a group,” said Cullen.

“They’re good at holding each other to account. They would have had a good bit of time out of Leinster at different stages. There’s always a bit of a management at this time of year, over Christmas.In terms of managing programmes remotely or whatever that it is, trying to maintain the level of physical fitness is one thing and then there’s the cohesion from the team point of view as well. Credit to the coaches in terms of how they developed sessions.

You’re putting them in the match scenarios. And that team cohesion is important for us. We try to have it as a point of difference over other teams. There were plenty of positives but the next challenge now is key because the situation we found ourselves in, where we’re chasing other teams in the pool. It really is battling for every single point. Every point will matter for us because of the scenario we found ourselves in.”

The result saw Leinster climb back into slightly more familiar territory in the Champions Cup standings. They now sit fourth in Pool A, four points behind Racing and Ulster. Good, but not good enough in their eyes.

Next up it’s Bath at the Rec, and Leinster will make the trip determined to make every point count again, the frustration over the decision to award Montpellier a 28-0 win for their cancelled round two meeting still very much at the forefront of their minds.

garry-ringrose-tackled-by-josua-vici Garry Ringrose impressed at centre. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It’s not the situation they wanted to be in come this stage of the tournament, but at least their destiny is back their own hands.

“Yeah, but where we want to be in terms of higher seedings which, as we know, matter massively in the tournament, it would be handy to have those extra two points having said that [in reference to EPCR recording other cancelled fixtures as 0-0 draws]. And the 28 points as well, potentially,” Cullen continued.

You want to finish with a higher seeding, if you set your sights on trying to go as far into the tournament as you possibly can there’s all these little things that make a big difference. You would hope that it was looked at again, potentially.”

Given their long wait for some rugby, it’s unlikely Cullen will need to spend too much time trying to guard minds against complacency during the week. He also has personal experience he can lean on, having been involved in Leinster’s previous record European win, a 92-17 defeat of Bourgoin in 2004.

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“Now that you mention Bourgoin, when you bring that up, all I’m thinking of is what happened the following week,” Cullen said, pointing out that in the return fixture, the province needed a late Brian O’Driscoll score to steal a victory away in France against the same opposition.

“We were scrapping at the end and Brian scored a try to get us out of a lot of trouble. It was a very different type of challenge and that’s the thing for our guys to understand pretty early in the week, that its a totally different challenge, going away from home, regardless of… Any team when they’re at home, especially a team like that with a lot of tradition in the tournament, I presume will front up with plenty of pride and battle away.

“Even in their game yesterday, they were heavily down but came back and scored three tries [losing 39-21 at La Rochelle].

“And they stuck in even in our game in the Aviva if you remember. In fact they pretty much win the second half against us, certainly the last 30 minutes.

“So we just need to make sure we prepare well and move onto the next challenge.” 

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Ciarán Kennedy

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