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Dublin: 5°C Sunday 16 May 2021

Cullen 'relieved and exhausted' after Leinster show bravery to put everything on the line

The eastern province withstood a late Montpellier rally to seal a 24-17 bonus-point win at the RDS.

Leinster celebrate a big win at the RDS.
Leinster celebrate a big win at the RDS.
Image: Tommy Dickson/INPHO

Ryan Bailey reports from the RDS

MUCH LIKE THE vast majority inside this ground, all of whom were left on the edge of their seat right up until the final kick of a gripping contest, Leo Cullen breathed a huge sigh of relief when all was said and done.

Leinster are up and running in Europe, coming away from this stern and physically demanding test with all five points but, boy, did they have to dig deep to see out a win which kick-starts their Pool 3 campaign.

Shorn of the experience and presence of Johnny Sexton, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip and Scott Fardy, Leinster, to a man, stood up and rose to the occasion to withstand a late Montpellier onslaught inspired by their monstrous 130kg wing Nemani Nadolo.

The Fijian scored two tries to keep the French visitors in the contest, but Leinster, through Joey Carbery, Josh van der Flier, Robbie Henshaw and Barry Daly, were more than deserving winners in front of a thunderous RDS crowd.

“I feel very relieved. Exhausted. It was pretty stressful watching at times, but we’re reasonably pleased with the overall outcome,” Cullen said afterwards.

“It wasn’t pretty at times, but we knew it was going to be a huge challenge. For a lot of young guys to step in today. I thought they showed a lot of bravery, courage against some very big, physical individuals. They have a lot of power and quality throughout their team. We got a win and we can move on now.”

The Leinster head coach praised his side’s tireless defensive efforts and the way some of his younger players showed remarkable bravery in the face of repeated charges from Nadolo.

He continued: “Nadolo is close to undefendable when he gets a head of steam off, he’s just that big and powerful. Guys were putting themselves in the way, but still, he has a very wearing effect. Montpellier, I thought they were very tight and limited in what they were trying to do in the first half, but I think they do that to narrow us up as well. Just to try and wear us down, make us tackle them.

Tadhg Furlong and Ruan Pienaar Tadhg Furlong and Ruan Pienaar shake hands at full-time. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“Then they’ll try and move the ball a little bit more in the second half, and they’re dangerous. Not only have they really big forwards that wear you down, they’ve also got big backs that can get their hands free in contact, and constantly taking two and three defenders for us.

“It was wearing for our guys, and it took a big, physical toll. You could see guys were absolutely exhausted by the end of it but over the course of it, I thought one of the big things is the bravery I think the guys showed.

“They fought hard for each other, for their team-mates, and that’s probably the most pleasing thing. Unbelievable crowd, the noise. Great atmosphere there today as well. We talk a lot about the team needing support. When you think of the threats, and the teams that we come up against.

“One of the things that makes the Irish provinces so special is the support that they get, and I think that sense of really everyone putting it all on the line there today was pleasing.”

Henshaw, outstanding in both attack and defence, thrived in the 13 jersey while Carbery again oozed class throughout as he was heavily involved in pretty much everything good about Leinster’s largely clinical attack. Ross Byrne and Barry Daly also produced big performances.

The forwards fronted up particularly well, with van der Flier and Conan getting through trojan work in the backrow while James Ryan, drafted in as a late replacement for Fardy, enjoyed a European debut to remember. The whole pack put in big shifts.

“I thought he was very strong in contact James, he’s a good athlete. Good engine. It’s tough trying to take down a lot of those big guys, but I thought he did well. Scott [Fardy] has a tonne of experience, so it’s hard to replace that, but James has got his first taste of European rugby, which is great to get through.

James Ryan and Frans Steyn James Ryan enjoyed a good European debut. Source: James Crombie/INPHO

“I thought he acquitted himself really, really well. He was in early this morning, early kick-off today, but he was in at 9am going through, and making sure he was clear in his role, and I thought he did very, very well.”

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On the injury front, Cullen confirmed Isa Nacewa hobbled off in the first half after getting his ankle jammed in a ruck while Leinster are ‘optimistic’ Sexton and O’Brien will come back into the fold for next week’s trip to Glasgow.

“We’ll see how they are,” Cullen said of the Lions duo. “We’ll get them checked over the weekend. Come in Monday, Tuesday and see how they go. Put a plan in place based off what we have seen of Glasgow so far, and what we see tonight again in their game against Exeter. Another great challenge. Glasgow riding high off the back of six wins.

“It’s not going to get any easier. Big game after big game at the moment, and it’s a great challenge. The squad is going to be tested, we made some calls early last week on guys, and hopefully some of those guys will come back into the mix.”

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

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Ryan Bailey

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