Wednesday 25 April 2018

Victor Costello: Johnny Sexton's ability to shift Montpellier's pack around the pitch will be crucial

Johnny Sexton has the knowledge to unpick the Montpellier’s defence tonight Picture: Sportsfile
Johnny Sexton has the knowledge to unpick the Montpellier’s defence tonight Picture: Sportsfile

Victor Costello

One can only address last week's victory over Zebre as an adequate collection of points that other teams avail of, so why not Leinster too?

It would have been nice to get a lesson in the new tackle rules to add to the entrance fee but the referee Dan Jones didn't seem to want to apply them and seemed not to have read World Rugby's updated laws.

The game was well managed by the Leinster coaching staff and they used it as a useful way to get Johnny Sexton back into the action, but the flip side to every rehab victory is the loss of another in Seán Cronin for a few weeks.

Cronin is a game-changer and although he is restricted to a bench role with Ireland, his contribution often betters those who start.

Much has been made of the vast strength in depth but the loss of Cronin will be a dent in leadership as well as his explosive ability around the pitch.

For years, French teams of old were always known for their lack of interest in away games and through the late nineties Leinster could always bank on a home victory against the mightiest French brands.

As Leinster progressed into title-winning teams, winning in France was a prerequisite as beating them at home was generally a given.

Modern-day French teams have bowed to benefactors and this has resulted in fewer home-grown players playing for teams in France and ironically has made them better performers on the road.

Modern-day Leinster, on the other hand, are quite the envy of most other clubs, with their large squad, world-class senior player group, phenomenal academy system, state-of-the-art training facilities and loyal fan base. Sometimes theses days games come down to two simple old-fashioned attributes: power and pace.

We saw Ireland in the World Cup last year get exposed by a simplistic game plan where the Argentinians simply accelerated into and through the space leaving defenders in their wake.

Montpellier are similar, in that what they lack in skill and composure, they make up for in their abundance of muscle.

They are pretty much given free rein to play what they see with no structure but they will target Leinster up front and this will put pressure on the home side.

Jake White, as a South African coach playing the Springbok way, will have the predictable route-one game-plan and try and bully Leinster and while this may be stating the obvious, it is important that the home side avoid getting stuck in a forward battle.

With Sexton looking like a return to form, his kicking game will be vital to move the hefty Montpellier pack around the pitch.

Like any group of rugby mercenaries, if Leinster can get scores early, the French side will lose interest and capitulate but the last thing the RDS faithful need to see is slow rumbling rolling mauls with pick and goes from the visitors. If this happens, we are in for a long night.

It is fair to say that Leinster are not the team they were when these two sides met last.

Back in October, they were full of hope of improving from last season and now they are genuine championship contenders.


Players will not think further than this game but for the rest of us, a victory will secure a quarter-final and next week's game against Castres will determine whether it's a home one.

For the players, there are Six Nations places up for grabs and there is nothing more beneficial for a player than arriving into Irish camp knowing that your province has secured a place in the knockout stages of European competition.

A packed house late in the pool stages of Europe is what it is all about for a player. The senior guys never get tired of it and the younger ones get a taste of what is now an over 20-year-old tradition.

Last year's equivalent fixture against Bath was a dead rubber and little did we know back then, Leinster were setting the foundation for another onslaught on Europe.

That is in the past however and this is the perfect time to seize the moment.

Irish Independent

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