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Cullen's cubs breathe life into pool of death with win

Leinster 24 Montpellier 17

Barry Daly of Leinster makes a terrific catch ahead of Montpellier’s Ruan Pienaar. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Barry Daly of Leinster makes a terrific catch ahead of Montpellier’s Ruan Pienaar. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

There is plenty of road to run in Pool 3 of this year's Champions Cup, but Leinster gave themselves a head-start by collecting five points at the RDS in the face of adversity on Saturday.

It's tough enough taking on a monstrous Montpellier team packed with big units, but to do so without the majority of your senior men makes life even harder.

Taking five points to their opponents' one represented a good day's work, especially as the French side stayed in the fight and had a gilt-edged chance to draw the game.

It got better when Exeter Chiefs beat Glasgow Warriors on Saturday night, failing to secure a bonus of their own and denying the Scots a losing consolation to take home.

Leinster's Robbie Henshaw scores his side's third try despite the tackle of Montpellier's Joseph Tomane. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's Robbie Henshaw scores his side's third try despite the tackle of Montpellier's Joseph Tomane. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

Leo Cullen hopes to supplement his callow team with some experience this week and Johnny Sexton and Sean O'Brien could return for the short trip to Scotland, but Isa Nacewa is likely to miss out. Victory at Scotstoun would put them in firm control with a third of the pool gone.

Expensive

On paper, the expensively assembled collection of hired guns who arrived in Dublin should have had no problem against a team largely drawn from one place and with an average age of 25.

The world's most expensive coach, Vern Cotter, was absent due to the death of his mother in New Zealand and while Aaron Cruden remained in Montpellier rehabbing, there was still a lot of quality brawn on show.

They threatened to out-muscle their hosts, but the locals produced the goods in an impressive show of squad strength by absorbing the big men and striking when the opportunity presented itself. It was a fine result.

At the outset, Cullen outlined the clash of cultures that this battle represented. Leinster's model is a largely organic one, supplemented by the odd overseas import to lend experience and plug a gap.

Leinster's Barry Daly scores his side's fourth try despite the tackle by Montpellier players Nemani Nadolo, behind, and Timoci Nagusan. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Leinster's Barry Daly scores his side's fourth try despite the tackle by Montpellier players Nemani Nadolo, behind, and Timoci Nagusan. Photo: Matt Browne/Sportsfile

Montpellier's is to sign big names and big men on big money. Cotter may change the culture during his time in charge, but for now it is only taking them so far.

Leo Cullen reckons the travelling side are the biggest team in professional rugby and in the Top 14 that muscle gets you far.

However, against a mobile, vibrant Leinster team the big beasts didn't have the nuance in their play to succeed and the home side emerged triumphant.

"The Top 14 is different," 2007 World Cup winner Bismarck du Plessis said as he compared the styles.

"Now you're going to ask me how it's different. It's different. Are you French? Do you know the French? Un petit peu. It's just totally different in what's important.

"I think Leinster were precise. We were in there with a chance at the end where we had a two on one, we could have maybe levelled the scores, and I thought one or two calls went against us, but it's totally different. You can't compare Top 14 to European rugby."

Leinster's Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Ruan Pienaar of Montpellier. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile
Leinster's Robbie Henshaw is tackled by Ruan Pienaar of Montpellier. Photo: Ramsey Cardy/Sportsfile

The former Springbok might have been chirpier had winger Timoci Nagusa opted to pass to Joffrey Michel with five minutes to go.

The replacement full-back was 5m out and in acres of space and the Fijian had time to give the pass, but he took contact and attempted an offload and knocked on.

Had they scored and Ruan Pienaar converted, they'd have left Dublin with two points and denied Leinster the victory. Instead they took one back to the south of France, but handed the Irish province the initiative.

The difference, Du Plessis assessed, was Leinster's ruthlessness when opportunity knocked.

"Leinster were clinical, especially in the first-half," he said.

"The first opportunity they got, I thought Joey Carbery ran a great line and scored in the corner. I thought that the opportunities that we gave them, and that they created themselves, they were lethal."

Carbery's try got the ball rolling and they doubled-down when Josh van der Flier powered over at close-range.

Things were ticking along nicely, but an ankle injury forced Nacewa off and a poor Luke McGrath decision to tap a penalty led to Nemani Nadolo powering his way over from close range to give his side a chance.

Jessie Mogg handed Robbie Henshaw a soft try after the break and Barry Daly secured the bonus point. However, Nadolo's second made it a nervous finish and Nagusa's poor execution of a clear-cut opportunity cost his side the chance of a draw.

It was criminal stuff, the kind of mistake that can haunt a team when it comes to the end of the pool.

Leinster move on to Glasgow with confidence in their young guns to deliver.

"It's big game after big game at the moment and it's a great challenge," Cullen said.

"The squad is going to be tested, we made some calls early last week on guys, and hopefully some of those guys will come back into the mix."

Leinster: J Carbery; A Byrne, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt, N Reid 35), B Daly (F McFadden 79)); R Byrne, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 63); J McGrath (C Healy 47), J Tracy (S Cronin 47), T Furlong (M Bent 62); D Toner, J Ryan (R Molony 62); R Ruddock, J van der Flier (J Murphy 62), J Conan (J van der Flier 73).

Montpellier: J Mogg (J Michel 52); B Fall (T Nagusa 64), J Tomane, F Steyn, N Nadolo; T Darmon (B Paillaugue 55), R Pienaar; M Nariashvili, B du Plessis (R Ruffenach 77), A Guillamon (D Kubriashvili 52 - temp, 69), J du Plessi, N van Rensburg, K Galletier, Y Camara (W Liebenberg 69), L Picamoles (capt).

Ref - W Barnes (England).

Irish Independent

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