Thursday 19 July 2018

'It was stressful viewing at times' - Leinster brio trumps French brawn

Leinster 24 Montpellier 17

Barry Daly scores Leinster’s fourth try despite being tackled by two Montpellier players during yesterday’s European Rugby Champions Cup game at the RDS Arena. Photo: Matt Browne
Barry Daly scores Leinster’s fourth try despite being tackled by two Montpellier players during yesterday’s European Rugby Champions Cup game at the RDS Arena. Photo: Matt Browne
Brendan Fanning

Brendan Fanning

This qualifies comfortably as a strange game. For much of it, the challenge of playing at lunchtime seemed to weigh down a fair number of those on the field, especially in the Montpellier ranks.

Moreover, the visitors looked some way removed from the level of fitness required to succeed at this level. And yet they had Leinster - reduced to 14 men with the binning of Adam Byrne on the final straight - sweating over whether they would be reflecting on a win or a draw.

Montpellier's Nemani Nadolo brushes off Leinster's Robbie Henshaw. Photo: Sportsfile
Montpellier's Nemani Nadolo brushes off Leinster's Robbie Henshaw. Photo: Sportsfile

A bonus-point win, as it turned out. Some way removed from the corresponding fixture last season but then it was a different time of year, in different circumstances.

So a crowd of 15,995 at the RDS got value for money on the excitement front, even if it wasn't quite what they had in mind. With Montpellier switching between horribly basic errors and hugely effective carrying, it was hard to know what to expect from them.

The home fans will be thankful to replacement Timoci Nagusa for the way it turned out. Twice in the endgame he messed up: the first was a simple enough catch and pass that would have put Joffrey Michel over in the corner; for the second he got stripped in possession, going forward, with time almost up. The relief in the home crowd was palpable.

"Exactly," Leo Cullen said afterwards. "I feel exhausted from the early kick-off. Yeah, it was stressful viewing at times."

Montpellier's Antoine tries to close down Leinster's Adam Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile
Montpellier's Antoine tries to close down Leinster's Adam Byrne. Photo: Sportsfile

Having seen enough of this juggernaut, up close and far away, Leinster knew what they would be dealing with. Still, Bismarck du Plessis did a fair bit of damage at the breakdown. But that was small beer compared to the impact of Nemani Nadolo. Two tries for one of the most powerful men on the circuit suggests the prep didn't translate into passing the exam with flying colours. The policy of kicking to him repeatedly seemed like a better idea on paper than on grass.

"I would have liked those kicks to be a bit more contestable," Cullen said. "We gave him too much easy ball. The wind was difficult in the first half, trying to manage those kicks, and some of them were getting blown in-field. Then we kicked one out quite cheaply as well.

"We kicked loosely, which again puts us on the back foot, because once he gets motoring it's a lot of mass on the move. So yeah, it's a challenge for guys.

"Isa (Nacewa) spoke about (Nadolo's) offloading ability. He's drawing two or three defenders in and then getting the ball away, so it was a challenge."

Leinster's Robbie Henshaw (second right) celebrates with teammates (from left) Adam Byrne, Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier after scoring his side's third try. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster's Robbie Henshaw (second right) celebrates with teammates (from left) Adam Byrne, Joey Carbery and Josh van der Flier after scoring his side's third try. Photo: Sportsfile

The worrying thing for Leinster was that they persisted when it wasn't working. Cullen makes much of the youth of his players - Ross Byrne was at 10 and James Ryan was a late replacement for Scott Fardy, called away to be with his wife, who was having a baby - and how much they are learning as they go.

You don't get much time to absorb those lessons, however, and with Glasgow next up it won't get much easier. Exeter will have the delights of dealing with Montpellier away from home.

It's always worrying for a side when they get nothing from sustained possession, and then concede virtually the first time their opponents get a foothold in the scoring zone. So for Montpellier to miss a long-range penalty from Ruan Pienaar on 14 minutes - he must really hate this venue - and then find themselves 12-0 down after 26 minutes can't have been great for their confidence.

Joey Carbery scored the first, getting outside Jesse Mogg, who had a woeful game, and then Josh van der Flier needed the approval of the TMO when he squeezed over on 12 minutes.

The first of Nadolo's tries, just before the break, changed the complexion a bit. He benefited from a powerful scrum shunt and good refereeing by Wayne Barnes to score from close range.

Even when Robbie Henshaw took value from confusion in the Montpellier defence to score on 44 minutes, to put Leinster 19-7 ahead, the away team stuck at it. They are hard to watch, trucking the ball up for the guts of an hour before giving it some air, but when Nadolo got over for his second, on 63 minutes, there were just five points between them.

It was left to European debutant Barry Daly to ease fears in the home camp with a really good finish, just three minutes later. Man of the match Henshaw ran the perfect line to stress the Montpellier defence, just as he had produced the moment of the game when being bounced by Nadolo before recovering to complete the tackle and then win the turnover at the ruck. It had the crowd on their feet.

The next time they were in that mode was at the final whistle. Byrne's binning - he slapped down a pass inside his own 22 - put a lot of heat on the home side in the last few minutes, but they kept their head to take the points.

Scorers

Leinster: Carbery, Van der Flier, Henshaw, Daly try each; Nacewa, R Byrne con each

Montpellier: Nadolo 2 tries; Pienaar pen, 2 cons

Leinster: J Carbery; A Byrne (yc 75), R Henshaw, I Nacewa (N Reid 36), B Daly (F McFadden 80); R Byrne, L McGrath (J Gibson-Park 64); J McGrath (C Healy 47), J Tracy (S Cronin 47), T Furlong (M Bent 64), D Toner, J Ryan (R Molony 64), R Ruddock, J Conan (J van der Flier 73), J van der Flier (J Murphy, 65 blood)

Montpellier: J Mogg (J Michel 52); B Fall (T Nagusa 64), J Tomane, F Steyn, N Nadolo; T Darmon (B Paillaugue 56), R Pienaar; M Nariashvili, B du Plessis (R Ruffenach 79), A Guillamon (D Kubriashvili 52), J du Plessis, NJ van Rensburg (J Delannoy 38), K Galletier, L Picamoles (capt), Y Camara (W Liebenberg 70)

Referee: W Barnes (England).

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