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Leinster begin European campaign with five-star win in Montpellier

Tries by Josh van der Flier, Ciaran Frawley, Dave Kearney, Dan Leavy and Jimmy O’Brien were more than enough for Leo Cullen’s men.

Image: Dave Winter/INPHO

LEINSTER MADE AN emphatic start to their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a bonus-point 35-14 victory away to French Top 14 side Montpellier at GGL Stadium.

During a game in which Leo Cullen’s men had a couple of issues at lineout and scrum-time but were otherwise conspicuously the superior side from pillar to post, tries by Josh van der Flier, Ciaran Frawley, Dave Kearney, Dan Leavy and Jimmy O’Brien were more than enough to start the new European campaign in style. Gabriel N’gandebe’s sole reply on behalf of the hosts arrived only after four unanswered tries by Leinster.

The writing was on the wall for Montpellier, and perhaps for the rest of a Saracens-less competition, early doors. Josh van der Flier, who carried powerfully all day, supplied the finishing touch to the visitors’ first try after just a handful of minutes following some wonderful quick hands across Montpellier territory.

Ross Byrne, whose brother Harry deputised on the bench following the late withdrawal of Johnny Sexton, was unable to convert Van der Flier’s five-pointer but chipped over three more on 11 minutes as Leinster took a two-score lead.

yacouba-camara-competes-in-the-air-with-rhys-ruddock Rhys Ruddock was man of the match in France. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

Benoit Paillaugue alleviated some of that early pressure with a penalty to bring the hosts back to within five, but Leinster roared back into the ascendancy thereafter.

A second try arrived after an umpteen-phase foray into French territory. Peter Dooley, impressive throughout, was instrumental with several carries, as was a tidy dummy-half-break by Ross Byrne which opened things up somewhat in midfield.

A patient, prolonged attack eventually saw Leinster make inroads as far as Montpellier’s five-metre line where the home side conceded a penalty advantage as Luke McGrath was taken out with the ball still in the ruck. With the free hit, and despite space seemingly being at a premium, Leinster continued to go down the blindside until a powerful carry by eventual man of the match Rhys Ruddock caused enough of a disturbance that it created an overlap for Ciaran Frawley in the corner.

Ruddock’s offload was perfectly manufactured and Frawley was practically already over the line as the ball landed in his bread basket for his first European try on his first European start.

Byrne, though, was again off the mark with his kick from near the touchline, and again, Montpellier replied shortly afterwards with a penalty from the boot of Paillaugue to keep within touching distance.

Then came the hammer blow from Leinster, however. Just as Montpellier appeared to get to grips with the generally Leinster-dominated breakdown, and only a handful of phases after they had turned Dave Kearney over with a highly celebrated choke tackle, the visitors struck for a key score with half-time looming.

A superb rip by Caelan Doris in contact gave Leinster possession just outside the Montpellier 22′, into which Josh van der Flier burst off Doris’ offload. Ross Byrne barked for the ball as soon as the back row went to ground and, off first-phase, he delivered the most picturesque crossfield kick from right to left, with Montpellier having no defensive presence on their right flank and Dave Kearney eyeing an acre of space on Leinster’s left.

Byrne’s precise kick bounced delightfully backwards into Kearney’s stride and he waltzed in for Leinster’s third. Having found his rhythm with kicks from hand, Byrne also converted this one from the tee.

dave-kearney-celebrates-after-scoring-a-try-with-ross-byrne Dave Kearney celebrates his try with Ross Byrne. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

After one final defensive stand during which Ruddock stole a lineout deep in his own side’s territory, the Blues went in at the break 14 points to the good.

It was Montpellier who made the more effective start to the second, almost immediately reducing the deficit to 11 through Paillaugue’s metronomic boot.

For the following 10 minutes, Leinster were bogged down by a series of handling errors and poorer execution than that for which they’ve become known. Unrelatedly, Leo Cullen opted to switch his entire front row on 47, with Cian Healy, Ronan Kelleher and Andrew Porter replacing Dooley, James Tracy and Michael Bent.

Montpellier, though, were still largely feeding off scraps and despite early second-half improvements, found themselves parked in their own 22′ for much of the third quarter — usually with the ball but unable to do much other than boot it back to Leinster once more.

peter-dooley-comes-up-against-paul-willemse Peter Dooley impressed for Leinster. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

Younger brother replaced older brother as Harry Byrne made his introduction just after the hour mark, and he didn’t have much time to warm into proceedings: a wonderful kick-chase and take by Robbie Henshaw had already brought the away side into the Montpellier half as the 21-year-old joined the fray, and from there they marched to within inches of a bonus-point try — Ronan Kelleher being denied twice — before settling for three points as Montpellier were pinged for an infringement at the breakdown.

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Byrne popped those over and Leinster’s lead was 14 once more.

His next contribution wasn’t as helpful, a probing kick towards touch going out on the full — only just. The ensuing lineout saw Montpellier enter Leinster territory for the first time in what seemed like ages; one of their shining lights, fullback Vincent Rattez, beat a couple of would-be tacklers but further inroads were cancelled out due to obstructionin the next phase.

The penalties were beginning to pile up for Montpellier and another one shortly afterwards allowed Byrne to prod the Blues deep into the hosts’ 22. The lineout, which at times struggled, was spot-on, the maul came close, but it was ultimately replacement Dan Leavy who crashed over for the bonus-point try on what was his European return.

dan-leavy-scores-a-try Leavy scores Leinster's fourth. Source: Dave Winter/INPHO

With seven minutes remaining, Leavy reminded us of his talent on the other side of the ball, miraculously holding up Montpellier on Leinster’s line as they searched for a consolation score.

The hosts did finally breach the whitewash with four minutes remaining, their pressure eventually telling with space out wide into which Gabriel N’gandebe sprinted, collecting a dodgy-enough pass to cross for his side’s first try.

But it was Leinster who had the final word. A woeful Montpellier kick was batted down by Robbie Henshaw, and Jimmy O’Brien — who had made an incisive break less than a minute beforehand — arrived onto the ball at pace, flying in from 25 yards for a try on his first European appearance.

Scorers for Montpellier:
Tries: Gabriel N’gandebe. Cons: n/a. Pens: Benoit Paillaugue (3).

Scorers for Leinster:
Tries: Josh van der Flier, Ciaran Frawley, Dave Kearney, Dan Leavy, Jimmy O’Brien. Cons: Ross Byrne (1), Harry Byrne (1). Pens: Ross Byrne (2).

Montpellier

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. Harry Byrne, 23. Dan Leavy.

Referee: Karl Dickson (England).

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