Hat-trick hero Jack Conan purrs as rampant Leinster maul 14-man Montpellier at the RDS
Leinster 57 Montpellier 3
Leinster sealed their place in the quarter-final of the Champions Cup with a convincing bonus point win over 14-man Montpellier.
The visitors had their out-half Frans Steyn red carded after 27 minutes for a recklessly high tackle on Johnny Sexton that resulted in the Ireland out-half leaving the pitch for a HIA which he successfully passed to return.
A hat-trick from the excellent Jack Conan who deputised capably for the injured Sean O’Brien ensured that Leinster avenged their defeat in Montpellier back in October.
Steyn had missed an early chance to kick the visitors into an early lead when he sent a third minute long-range penalty wide of the posts after Conan was penalised at a lineout.
Leinster continued to soak up the Montpellier pressure but were eventually given some restate when Garry Ringrose broke clear and linked brilliantly with Isa Nacewa who has tackled inside the French side’s 22.
Leinster sensed blood and were rewarded for another clinical line break, this time when Rory O’Loughlin and Robbie Henshaw linked in midfield.
The ball made its way to Sexton and floated a lovely pass out wide for Nacewa to score in the corner after 16 minutes. Sexton converted from wide on the touchline.
Steyn cut the deficit to four points but the Springbok’s night would soon take a dramatic turn.
Just as Montpellier looked as if they would build on Steyn’s penalty, A piece of individual magic from Nacewa lit up the freezing Dublin night sky.
The Kiwi cleverly dinked the ball over the onrushing Timoci Nagusa and showed a great turn of pace to regather the ball and play the most delicate offload to Conan who had the easiest of tasks to score.
Sexton added the extras to push Leinster into a 14-3 before Steyn crushed his side’s hope of mounting a comeback.
The South-African out-half’s recklessly high tackle smashed Sexton around the neck/head area and after consulting with his TMO, referee JP Doyle had no option but to show the red card after 27 minutes.
Steyn was incensed by the decision but it was the correct one, especially after World Rugby recently issued new laws about tackling high.
Nacewa punished Montpellier further by firing over the resulting penalty as Leinster looked to kill the contest in the first half.
Their cause was helped even further two minutes later when Adam Byrne brilliantly fielded Luke McGrath’s booming box kick.
The in-form winger turned on the afterburners but needed the help of Conan before scoring a scintillating try in the corner.
Ross Byrne had come on for Sexton who left the field for a HIA and he bisected the posts with the conversion as Leinster led 24-3.
Sexton passed his HIA and returned to the field four minutes after going off, much to the relief of the home supporters.
The game in truth already looked won for Leinster and a 21-point cushion at half time was added to when the hosts sealed the bonus point through Conan’s second try after 55 minutes.
Leinster battered their way around the fringes and the pressure eventually told when the outstanding powered his way over the whitewash.
Sexton converted for what what would prove to be his last action of the game as he was replaced by Byrne.
Leo Cullen emptied his bench with an eye to Castres next week where Leinster will look to ensure that their home quarter-final is at home.
Luke McGrath got in on the action with a fifth try after 64 minutes, by which stage the Montpellier’s defenders were out on their feet.
Byrne’s easy conversion left Leinster 38-3 in front and the crowd didn’t have to wait long for a sixth try, this time Cian Healy coming off the bench to power over from close range.
Byrne added the extras but was wide with another effort with 10 minutes left on the clock when Conan completed his hat-trick.
Garry Ringrose and his dancing feet completed the rout late on with an eighth try and this time Byrne made no mistake as Leinster eased their way into the quarter-final.
LEINSTER - I Nacewa (capt) (R Kearney 41); A Byrne, G Ringrose, R Henshaw (D Leavy 65), R O'Loughlin; J Sexton (R Byrne 27-31, 56), L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 65); J McGrath (C Healy 52), J Tracy (R Strauss 56), T Furlong (M Bent 56); D Toner, H Triggs (R Molony 64); J Conan, J van der Flier, J Heaslip.
MONTPELLIER - J Michel; T Nagusa, V Martin (J Mogg 72), J Tomane, N Nadolo; F Steyn, N White (T O’Leary 60); M Nariashvili (Y Wateremez 52), S Mamukashvili, J Du Plessis (D Kubriashvili 52-63)); P Willemse (A Battut 42), K Mikautadze (A Battut 42); F Ouedraogo (K Galletier,64), A Qera (capt) (H Immelman 27), P Spies.
Ref - JP Doyle (RFU)