Leinster blast past poor Montpellier on long-awaited return

Irish province notches 13 tries in impressive display in first fixture in over a month

 

Leinster 89 Montpellier 7

It says everything about this non-contest that by the time Ross Molony was powering over for Leinster’s bonus point try as early as the 24th minute, it was already time to check the province’s record European wins.

In the event, they matched their record win over Montpellier in the previous eight minutes - a 57-3 victory here in January 2017 - and weren’t that far away from their biggest win of all time in the competition, a 92-17 rout at the old Lansdowne Road in December 2004.

In truth, Leinster have harder training sessions - most probably every week. The saying goes that you have to earn the right to go wide, but that wasn’t really the case here. Leinster went wide early and often, and by the simple expedient of playing with width and generating quick ball set a tempo that this cobbled together Montpellier side couldn’t live with, scoring 13 tries to one.

This was evidenced in how much ball the starting wings - Jimmy O’Brien and Jordan Larmour - received, as well as James Lowe after Larmour played through the pain barrier until half-time. The official statistics gave them 26 carries. It seemed like more.

As well as the collective parts enjoying a welcome oiling of the wheels, encouragingly for both the Leinster and Irish coaches, a host of individuals maintained their form prior to their latest five week hiatus.

Josh van der Flier ran in a couple of tries in yet another player of the match performance, Ross Molony underlined why he has become first choice as Josh Murphy made light of James Ryan’s late withdrawal due to a slight hamstring strain, while Caelan Doris and Jack Conan rampaged around the place like wrecking balls.

Jamison Gibson-Park facilitated the high tempo, Ross Byrne pulled the strings until Johnny Sexton came on for the final half-hour, Ciarán Frawley had some lovely creative touches, and Garry Ringrose couldn’t be contained. In all, Ringrose had 16 carries for 112 metres.

Leinster had so much front foot ball, so many attacking options and played the game at such a whirlwind pace that invariably there were a hatload of handling errors in what was a first run-out for five weeks, as evidenced by 19 turnovers. But there was also unfettered ambition, witness 20-plus offloads in what at times was an exhibition, and 19 clean breaks to one.

Despite the rustiness, they came out of the traps quickly, and one passage of offloading in turn by Ringrose, Ronan Kelleher, Larmour, Gibson-Park and Byrne had the 5,000-strong crowd in raptures.

Conan had the ball rolling as early as the third minute, Gibson-Park and Byrne added further tries before Molony sealed the bonus point with his first European try.

Montpellier did raise a gallop, albeit fleetingly, when Masivesi Dakuwaqa powered over after they had worked the ball wide before Marco Tauleigne had another one chalked off when Gibson-Park did enough to force Guilhem Guirado to put his foot on the touchline before offloading.

And that was pretty much it. Montpellier had little or no shape to their defence, missing 40 tackles in all, and it said everything about their decreasing levels of desire that so many of Leinster’s tries became untouched run-ins around or under the posts.

“It’s a very good team but we move without pressure, we have nothing to lose,” said their young centre Thomas Darmon on Friday, but ultimately Montpellier lost their pride here.

The only blemish was the sight of Tadhg Furlong going off early on, even if he did not seem in too much discomfort. His replacement, Michael Ala’alatoa, crashed through the flimsy tackle of his opposite number Henry Thomas to resume the scoring with his first Leinster try after more dancing footwork by Larmour.

Michael Ala’alatoa scores his maiden try for the province. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho
Michael Ala’alatoa scores his maiden try for the province. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

The winger then finished in the corner before half-time after yet another carry and offload by Doris and, after the ball went to ground, a flicked between-the-legs pass by Byrne. Larmour had seemingly suffered a hip injury in the first quarter when beating Axel Bevia to the ball - the latter making a 50-50 look like a lost cause - and unsurprisingly departed at the interval.

Leinster regrouped at the break, tightened up, took Montpellier through the phases and van der Flier was in support to score from Conan’s offload off the deck.

With that, Montpellier raised the white flag, and within moments O’Brien danced in from the right touchline past three players without being touched.

The funniest try was van der Flier’s second try, racing onto a long throw over the top unchallenged - the mirth being in that it was actually a Montpellier line-out.

The introduction of Dan Sheehan was the last thing Montpellier needed, and after his quick brace Conan had his second off a Ringrose break, and another strong Ringrose carry and switch by Hugo Keenan led to Lowe’s try completing the record.

Scoring sequence: 3 mins Conan try, Byrne con 7-0; 9 mins Gibson-Park try, Byrne con 14-0; 14 mins Byrne try and con 21-0; 24 mins Molony try, Byrne con 28-0; 27 mins Dakuwaqa try, Foursons con 28-7; 34 mins Ala’alatoa try, Byrne con 35-7; 39 mins Larmour try 40-7; (half-time 40-7); 44 mins van der Flier try, Byrne con 47-7; 46 mins O’Brien try, Byrne con 54-7; 51 mins van der Flier try, Sexton con 61-7; 65 mins Sheehan try, Sexton 68-7; 69 mins Sheehan try, Sexton con 75-7; 76 mins Conan try, Sexton 82-7; 81 mins Lowe try, Sexton con 89-7.

Leinster: Hugo Keenan; Jordan Larmour, Garry Ringrose (capt), Ciarán Frawley, Jimmy O’Brien; Ross Byrne, Jamison Gibson-Park; Andrew Porter, Ronan Kelleher, Tadhg Furlong, Ross Molony, Josh Murphy, Caelan Doris, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan.

Replacements: Michael Ala’alatoa (6 mins), James Lowe for Larmour (half-time), Rhys Ruddock for Murphy, Johnny Sexton for Byrne (both 50 mins), Dan Sheehan for Kelleher, Cian Healy for Porter (both 51 mins), Luke McGrath for Gibson-Park (62 mins), Max Deegan for van der Flier (68 mins).

Montpellier: Axel Bevia; Pierre Lucas, Thomas Darmon, Karl Martin, Josua Vici; Louis Foursans, Gela Aprasidze; Mikheil Nariashvili, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Henry Thomas; Tyler Duguid, Mickael Capelli; Masivesi Dakuwaqa, Florian Verhaeghe, Marco Tauleigne.

Replacements : Vincent Giudicelli for Guirado, Robert Rodgers for Mariashvili, Alexandre Becognee for Tauleigne, Nico Janse van Rensburg for Capelli (all 47 mins), Titi Lamositele for Thomas, Paul Vallée for Bevia (both 52 mins), Thomas or Lamositele (63 mins), Aubin Eymeri for Martin (67 mins),

Not used: Zach Mercer.

Sent-off: Dakuwaqa (68 mins).

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England).

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