Monday 22 July 2019

Leinster's little victories lead to a big statement

Robbie Henshaw gets Leinster’s third try despite the efforts of Montpellier’s Joe Tomane. Phot: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Robbie Henshaw gets Leinster’s third try despite the efforts of Montpellier’s Joe Tomane. Phot: Matt Browne/Sportsfile
Ruaidhri O'Connor

Ruaidhri O'Connor

It lasted just seven seconds, but it was one of those moments that summed up the 80 minutes.

Robbie Henshaw is usually the one running people over, but midway through the second-half of Saturday's Champions Cup opener against Montpellier the Ireland centre was caught off-guard by Nemani Nadolo, who tossed him aside as if he wasn't there.

Normally, in the Top 14, the Fijian winger's job would be done and he'd be heading for the tryline, but after smiling wryly to himself Henshaw stayed in the fight and as he fell backwards managed to chop the big man down.

For good measure he sprung to his feet, drove through the ruck and ripped the ball from Ruan Pienaar's grasp.

The RDS rose in unison to salute the 24-year-old. The score was 19-7 to Leinster and while there was drama to come it was a microcosm of the battle, as a young Leinster team stripped of the majority of its leadership corps secured a bonus point win against the expensively assembled French side.


"There's big moments in games and definitely when the crowd gets behind you, you hear that roar and the team gets behind you... your team-mates celebrate the little victories. That's a big lift for our team, maybe when the opposition see that it could be a little gain on them as well, it helps," Henshaw reflected.

"It's not nice, it didn't hurt really, but it's a bit embarrassing when you get thrown like a rag doll around the place. He's a two-man job.

Montpellier's Ruan Pienaar gets the ball away during the match against Leinster. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Montpellier's Ruan Pienaar gets the ball away during the match against Leinster. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

"I just knew I got it all wrong and I was gone, falling backwards. I managed to get a second go at him and take him down. I just kind of smirked when I realised the power of the man.

"We practise our speed getting back to our feet in training, coming back through the ruck and being legal.

"So I just got back to my feet and I knew we were under the pump at that stage. I just saw Pienaar picking the ball up with no one there to cover him in the ruck. I knew I was within my rights to go through the ruck and strip him of the ball.

"It was a big moment, but I thought at the time I needed to do something after slipping off Nadolo."

Nadolo played a big role in an entertaining Pool 3 opener, contributing two tries as Montpellier claimed a bonus point, but his poor defence offered the home side some of the chances that led to them collecting a full house of their own.

Already shorn of experience, Leo Cullen lost Scott Fardy before kick-off as the Australian was attending the birth of his child. So, James Ryan was parachuted into a team already without Johnny Sexton, Rob Kearney, Sean O'Brien, Garry Ringrose and Jamie Heaslip.

Isa Nacewa lasted 35 minutes before an ankle injury forced him off and while they wobbled without their captain they retained their faith in the game-plan and their capacity to ruthlessly take chances when they were on offer

They had to absorb waves of big ball carriers and were forced to scramble at times. Adam Byrne and Noel Reid - who replaced Nacewa - missed six tackles each and even Henshaw missed four, yet they outscored their visitors four tries to two.

Joey Carbery was magnificent at full-back, Barry Daly continued his excellent campaign and Ross Byrne mixed his game nicely and carried a threat of his own.

Up front, they coped well with the enormous Montpellier pack and their targeting of the breakdown worked a treat.

Alongside Devin Toner, who put in an excellent shift, Ryan coped well on the first European start of his career. On this evidence, there will be many more.

A lesser side would hide behind their absentee list, but even the less heralded members of the Leinster set-up fully believe they can thrive at this level.

"It shows we have strength in depth, which is obvious, but guys are there and ready to go," Henshaw said.

"We just have class from 1 to 15, the squad is exceptional and we're always looking to get better as a team.

"That goes down to our coaching as well, the coaching is exceptional in the set-up. During the week we work hard and that translates on to the pitch.

"Our aim was to kick off this competition with a win and to get the bonus point out of it was really pleasing," he added.

"There's a few fix-ups that we can look at on Monday in the review, but I think all in all we'll be happy with that.

"Obviously there's a few late call-ups, James Ryan and Ross Byrne stepping up there was brilliant.

"That goes to show the character in this team, we have the players that, when called upon, they need to be ready and they've shown that throughout the season."

Next week's opponents Glasgow Warriors are a familiar and altogether different challenge.

Unbeaten in the Guinness PRO14 and under the tutelage of the highly rated Dave Rennie, the Scots are a dangerous proposition and Henshaw says there'll be a major focus on defence.

"We slipped a few tackles, myself included. A few defensive errors were a little bit evident, but it's nothing major," he said.

"Playing Glasgow over there on a 4G pitch, they love to run the ball as well. We'll need to be rock solid in our defence because I think Finn Russell is a class player at No 10.

"He definitely looks to run the ball, attack flat at the line and put guys in holes. Our defence will have to be better next week.

"It'll be a faster game and definitely when the ball bounces there it's hard to judge, it can go anywhere.

"We'll be ready for it, it'll be a quicker game and Glasgow will love playing on it. We like to run the ball as well, we like to attack. Definitely, it'll be a good game."

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