Monday 21 May 2018

Leinster hold on for bonus-point win over Montpellier

Leinster survived a nail-biting finish to begin their Champions Cup campaign with a 24-17 bonus-point win over Montpellier at the RDS.

Man of the match Robbie Henshaw and European debutant Barry Daly went over after the interval to add to first-half tries from Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier to give Leinster a winning position.

Montpellier, who trailed 12-7 after playing with a first-half wind advantage, hung in there thanks to Nemani Nadolo's brace of tries before Ruan Pienaar's 70th-minute penalty cut the gap back to seven points.

However, 14-man Leinster, despite losing Adam Byrne to the sin-bin in the closing stages, stood firm to go straight to the top of Pool Three.

Leinster fielded two Champions Cup newcomers in Daly and James Ryan, the latter replacing Scott Fardy whose wife went into labour earlier on Saturday. Injuries to Jonathan Sexton (dead leg) and Aaron Cruden (thigh) robbed the game of a mouth-watering fly-half duel, with Leo Cullen's men also kicking off their European season without the sidelined Jamie Heaslip, Rob Kearney and Sean O'Brien.

Leinster took the lead in the 17th minute when Sexton's young replacement, Ross Byrne, pressurised Jesse Mogg with a clever kick and then, armed with a penalty advantage, he fired a pass out for Carbery to slice in between Frans Steyn and Nadolo and score the province's 400th European Cup try.

Byrne was unable to convert from out wide, but excellent work in slowing down Montpellier ball gave Leinster further encouragement. Nadolo was then caught out by two pacy runs from Adam Byrne, with number 10 Ross Byrne also finding a hole in midfield before Van der Flier burrowed over for a seven-pointer.

However, just as Leinster threatened to pull the trigger again, Bismarck du Plessis got in at the breakdown twice to lift the big-spending visitors.

With home captain Isa Nacewa hobbling off, Steyn surged through midfield and Nadolo was held up just short. From the resulting scrum, a bouncing pass sat up fortuitously for the big Fijian to finish off and Pienaar converted for a 12-7 deficit.

Into the second half, the luck was on Leinster's side when Ross Byrne's cross-field kick came off the hands off Mogg and Joe Tomane and Henshaw gobbled it up for an easy run-in, with Byrne converting for a 19-7 lead.

Eager replacement Cian Healy and Adam Byrne led Leinster's charge for a bonus point but turnovers from Mikheil Nariashvili and Tomane rescued Vern Cotter's charges. Henshaw did likewise for his side, recovering brilliantly to tackle the menacing Nadolo and then rip the ball out of Pienaar's grasp.

Nonetheless, the size difference paid off for Nadolo on the hour mark when he batted away attempted tackles from Luke McGrath and Noel Reid to draw Montpellier back within five points.

It was Daly's turn to show off his finishing skills five minutes later, Henshaw and Carbery combining to set up the winger for a muscular finish past Steyn and Timoci Nagusa in the left corner.

However, Leinster lapsed just when they needed to show composure. Poor discipline from Ross Molony allowed Pienaar to kick Montpellier into bonus-point range, and winger Byrne's deliberate knock-on left the hosts scrambling to hold on with 14 men.

Nagusa blundered when he failed to free up a man outside him, though, and Montpellier's levelling try never came. They kept hold of their losing bonus point, nonetheless, as Ross Byrne was short with a late long-range penalty.

Press Association

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