Saturday 21 July 2018

French test should stand to Leinster in their quest for European glory

Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Leinster backs coach Girvan Dempsey. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile
Cian Tracey

Cian Tracey

Leinster travel to Montpellier this weekend looking to cement their place as Europe's number-one seeds, which will of course have serious ramifications later on in their quest for European glory, but somewhere in the back of the players' minds, they will be out to prove a point to themselves.

The province failed to win in any of their three visits to France last season, including in Montpellier where they were sent packing in the pool stages.

That defeat hampered their chances of securing an eventual home semi-final, while so too did the draw in Castres at this stage of the tournament last year.

It culminated in a daunting trip to Lyon where Clermont did a number on Leinster to send them crashing out at the semi-final stage.

Fast-forward 12 months and the complexion of Leinster's path to the title looks altogether more rosy.

They still have plenty of work to do against a Montpellier side who remain in with a chance of joining them in the knockout stages, even if that eventuality is extremely slim.

Leinster have the luxury of already being assured of their last-eight place but they are mindful of the lessons they learned by slipping up in France last season.

"You look at last year, we didn't win in France last year, which is important," backs coach Girvan Dempsey admitted.

"We know that it still is a tough place to go and play. French teams at home, traditionally, are very strong. We recognise that. It is going to be a very, very tough ask.

"We feel that our game is improving sufficiently, that we can cause them a lot of problems. There are opportunities in terms of the way they defend that we can exploit and, hopefully, score some points."

Leinster's strongest XV haven't been tested that much in recent weeks and deep down, the coaching staff will probably want Montpellier to put them under some pressure so that the players are reminded that the margin for error after Saturday's clash is slim.

"We feel good, we are in a good place in terms of our game," Dempsey continued.

"We realise it is not going to be an easy task. You only have to look back to last year, we probably didn't really play very well.

"We were lucky to get a losing bonus point when Isa Nacewa scored a crucial try and conversion in the last minute. They haven't lost at home apart from Exeter.

"Look across the board, they are a star-studded pack. They have a powerful pack, they have strong, big backs. It will be a big challenge.

"But we feel we have made strides in our own game defensively over the past number of weeks. Our attacking shape and systems are starting to grow and develop.

"Looking back at the game against Glasgow, we were very pleased with the first half but disappointed with the second half in terms of ourselves, not being as ruthless as we could have been.

"That Harlem Globetrotters stuff got a bit contagious, we got a bit loose in possession and that allowed Glasgow a couple of easy scores which was frustrating.

"That's the biggest thing from the weekend. As long as we stick to our systems and what we're doing, we're in a pretty good place."

A major reason why Leinster are sitting pretty is that they have stuck to their systems and backed the process.

Leo Cullen and Stuart Lancaster will again be faced with plenty of selection headaches this week but even still, Dempsey has warned that they face a tricky test against a gargantuan pack who may well be guided around the park by a familiar face. "It's going to be hard to adjust to their team," Dempsey added.

"The talk is Ruan Pienaar will be back which is a big asset for them. It's hard to predict their team.

"But whatever it is, they have a general attacking style and we have looked at that and seen opportunities for us in attack, but also defensively where we need to shore up.

"So we are going to be tested and we know that. But we realise if we want to be successful in this cup, we have to be up there and beating these teams away from home to put ourselves in that position."

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