Leinster aiming to refine their French lessons
Cullen omits Sexton as Blues seek to make their point and secure easier path to Champions Cup final
When the Leinster brains trust sat down to start planning today's trip to Montpellier, someone around the table wondered when the province had first won in France.
Girvan Dempsey knew the answer because he had played in 2002's 23-20 win in Montferrand, so long ago that even he and Denis Hickie had hair.
They then wondered when was the last time they had done so. It took them a few guesses. Last season's trio of failed attempts still wound them so understandably the memories were muddled.
In fact, 2014 represents the last occasion when Leinster won on French soil, at Castres; only two of that day's line-up will take to the starting blocks today.
For all their current imperious form, there are still new territories for Europe's only unbeaten club to conquer.
Leinster may be the only side to have guaranteed qualification after 50 matches - a resounding endorsement of the Champions Cup revamp - but they remain keen.
"I know it's somewhere we've struggled in the last few years," says Jack Conan, conscious that Leinster complicated their route to a possible final last season with a sloppy draw in Castres.
"Even last year, drawing away to Castres and losing away to Montpellier, you know, it's not an easy place to go and play. It means a lot to those lads when they're at home so we know we'll have to be at our best this weekend."
That will be amplified today as, with qualification assured and just a point needed to ensure a home passage all the way to Bilbao's final, Leinster have left some big guns at home while, in contrast, Montpellier have unleashed all their weapons. Leo Cullen makes six changes from the side that swatted Glasgow aside in the RDS last weekend, the main omissions led by Johnny Sexton, a development which, added to Joey Carbery's return on the bench, will please Joe Schmidt at least.
Montpellier include Nemani Nadolo, Frans Steyn, Ruan Pienaar and Aaron Cruden amongst others as they seek the five-point harvest that might see them leapfrog the 15 sides still clambering for the other seven quarter-final slots.
Winning in France would be quite the statement from the Champions Cup favourites but, without the desperate motivation required, it may prove elusive, albeit the losing bonus point should not.
Montpellier - B Fall; T Nagusa, F Steyn, J Serfontein, N Nadolo; A Cruden, R Pienaar; M Nariashvili, B Du Plessis, A Guillamon, N Van Rensburg, K Mikautadze, K Galletier, Y Camara, L Picamoles (capt). Reps: R Ruffenach, Y Watremez, M Haouas, J Delannoy, F Ouedraogo, G Aprasidze, J Tomane, J Mogg.
Leinster - R Kearney; J Larmour, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (c), J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, J Ryan, D Leavy, J van der Flier, J Conan. Reps: B Byrne, J McGrath, A Porter, R Molony, J Murphy, L McGrath, J Carbery, F McFadden.
Ref - L Pearce (RFU).
- Montpellier v Leinster, Live, Sky Sports Action, 1.0 (Highlights TG4, 7.15pm)
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