Leinster cruise into quarter-finals as top seeds
Leo Cullen’s side made it six group stage wins from six by swatting aside Montpellier
Cronin celebrates his try with Josh van der Flier. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho
Montpellier 14 Leinster 23
Leinster’s unbeaten European campaign continues but Montpellier’s meagre resistance at Altrad Stadium deserved nothing but defeat.
The tournament favourites march on with two Dublin matches potentially leading them to the Champions Cup final in Bilbao on May 12th.
“Ah, look man, we are just glad to get out of the Pool,” said Leinster captain Isa Nacewa.
There were plenty of positives and no obvious injuries.
Take James Lowe, an outstanding rugby player wrapped as a liability, yet clearly able to exist in Stuart Lancaster’s chaos theory. The Kiwi winger will be Irish qualified in 2020 and by then Lancaster could well be the national coach.
The current Irish chief might not be so keen to promote such an impulsive nature.
Lowe loves an offload – be it into touch or bouncing off a teammate’s chest - while his defensive instincts are poor.
The 25-year-old also flung an intercept at Nemani Nadolo. Not wise and, comparatively, Jordan Larmour was never exposed by the Fijian giant.
Still, he’s electric with ball in hand. See Ross Byrne’s try after four minutes. When former All Black outhalf Aaron Cruden failed to find touch, Byrne put Lowe down the left wing. A clever interchange with Jamison Gibson-Park saw him held up a yard out, but quick ball allowed Gibson-Park put Byrne over untouched in the corner.
Byrne converted and made it 8-0 with a penalty on 19 minutes.
There were brief signs of Montpellier’s physical superiority. Twice in the first half Benjamin Fall went to the heavens and out leaped Rob Kearney for significant territorial gains.
Also, Louis Picamoles proved a threatening figure, splitting a Leinster maul to spark a counter attack that saw Ruan Pienaar denied a try after Timoci Nagusa’s forward pass.
However, Montpellier scores were coming. With Scott Fardy rested, to make room for Lowe and Gibson-Park in the foreigner slots, Montpellier went through the guts of Leinster.
Their two tries, in a 15 minute purple patch, came directly and then indirectly off the maul.
Bismarck du Plessis rumbled over on 23 minutes, after Cruden ignored an easy three points, before a decoy maul saw Picamoles charging at the Leinster line on 36 minutes. Josh van der Flier stopped the French number eight and while Dan Leavy was also on hand the prospective Irish flankers were unable to deny the offload for Yacouba Camara.
Montpellier went for the jugular so Leo Cullen’s men did well to turnaround only 14-8 in arrears.
After more high fielding by Fall, a Cruden crossfield kick was gathered by Frans Steyn who flipped the ball to Nadolo. A certain try was denied by the sizeable frame of Tadhg Furlong arriving to topple the mighty winger.
Leinster regrouped, perhaps knowing to beat this massive French-Georgian-South Africa pack they must move them about.
Five minutes into the second half a snappy pass by Kearney led to Robbie Henshaw stepping inside Nadolo for a second Leinster try.
Byrne missed the touchline conversion but atoned with a penalty to put Leinster back in front, 16-15.
Superior fitness began to tell. A pair of offloads by the superb James Ryan and Leavy prompted Gibson-Park to kick into the Montpellier 22 and from the resulting lineout Leinster mauled Seán Cronin over for a third try.
That ended any hope of Montpellier salvaging their European campaign and the contest ran out of steam.
It was worth staying tuned to see Joey Carbery’s return to rugby, after fracturing his arm in November, replacing Kearney at fullback rather than Byrne at outhalf.
Scoring sequence – 4 mins: R Byrne try, 5-0; 19 mins: R Byrne, 8-0; 23 mins: B du Plessis try, 8-5; A Cruden con, 8-7; 36 mins: Y Camara try, 8-12; A Cruden con, 8-14. Half-time. 45 mins: R Henshaw try, 13-14; 49 mins: R Byrne pen, 16-14; 51 mins: S Cronin try, 21-14; R Byrne con, 23-14.
MONTPELLIER: B Fall; T Nagusa, F Steyn, J Serfontein, N Nadolo; A Cruden, R Pienaar; M Nariashvili, B Du Plessis, A Guillamon; N Van Rensburg, K Mikautadze; K Galletier, Y Camara, L Picamoles.
Replacements from: R Ruffenach, Y Watremez, M Haouas, J Delannoy, F Ouedraogo, G Aprasidze, J Tomane, J Mogg.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; J Larmour, R Henshaw, I Nacewa, J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson Park; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong; D Toner, J Ryan; D Leavy, J van der Flier, J Conan.
Replacements: J McGrath for C Healy (50 mins), L McGrath for J Gibson-Park, J Carbery for R Kearney (both 57 mins), J Murphy for D Leavy, A Porter for T Furlong (both 66 mins), F McFadden for J Lowe (68 mins), B Byrne for S Cronin (70 mins), R Molony for J Ryan (73 mins).
Referee: Luke Pearce (England).
Champions Cup knock-outs:
Quarter finals -
Leinster v Saracens
Clermont v Racing
Munster v Toulon
Scarlets v La Rochelle
Semi finals -
Leinster/Saracens v Scarlets/La Rochelle
Clermont/Racing 92 v Munster/Toulon