Leinster look well-equipped for Montpellier test

Pieces falling into place again for Leo Cullen as O’Brien, Healy and Sexton return

Leinster with Johnny Sexton, Seán O'Brien and Cian Healy all on deck. Rare times revisited.

Last time they ran out together was the dismantling of France at the Millennium Stadium on October 11th, 2015.

Along with Rob Kearney and Jamie Heaslip, this was the quintet to keep Leinster at the business end of European rugby. Injuries and a contractual breakdown denied the sight of this generation entering their prime together.

But here they are. Their gathering makes this multi-cultural pack of Montpellier bulls not seem so frightening.


The Mike’s – Ross and McCarthy – are also being sent on to this southern France battlefield. Tadhg Furlong pulled up against Castres so tighthead prop is the first Leinster, and so Ireland, position coming under strain this season but it is to heavy veterans Cullen now turns.

The promise of O’Brien and Healy carrying ball renews a feature of play that created the platform that delivered European titles.

“Wait and see,” Cullen replied at the suggestion of defensive lines being fractured.

“Traditionally those guys have done a good job in that regard. The weather’s not meant to be great so what type of game it is going to be . . we will try to make some calls. They are both eager, having had absences out of the game, to show what they can do.”

Stunning rise

Sexton’s return is always significant but the stunning rise of Joey Carbery adds a brand new dimension to Leinster’s offence. It indirectly gives Cullen options up front as Carbery, along with Isa Nacewa, provides the versatility to cover all seven back positions.

That means Leinster can conceivably finish with a stronger pack.

O'Brien will probably not bring the youthful stamina Robbie Henshaw showed on his return when completing 80 minutes against Munster so Dan Leavy or Jordi Murphy, probably both, will arrive with Mick Kearney, Sean Cronin and Jack McGrath. Just as Jake White unloads his Georgian and South African reserves.

Montpellier really should have put Northampton away at Franklin’s Garden last weekend.

White could not have been pleased with Nic White after the Wallaby scrumhalf’s failure to find touch in the 79th minute. It cost them a valuable four points on the road.

When Harry Mallinder's long range penalty fell short the game seemed over but White's punt found a grateful James Wilson who carried in-field. Nigel Owens warned Alexandre Dumoulin to release the ball, the French international centre refused so Steven Myler kicked the winning score.

Leinster may suffer for those calamitous few seconds.

“We are not arrogant enough to think we will graduate from [winning]the Challenge Cup and just dominate sides away or at home in the Champions Cup,” said Jake White, the former Springbok coach who has already been replaced by Vern Cotter next season.

Presumably they privately believe the opposite. There are too many beastly South African forwards (six) for them not to.

Once peerless

Domination is their game.

An already humongous international pack has been strengthened by the addition of French and Fijian flankers Fulgence Ouedraogo and Akapusi Qera. The once peerless Springbok number eight Pierre Spies completes the backrow.

Jannie du Plessis then Davit Kubriashvili will scrum down against Healy then McGrath. It's a real opportunity for James Tracy at hooker but do not expect three tries off the Leinster maul this week; Montpellier at home will not yield like Castres did in Dublin.

Their backline is also stacked with world-class players. Fijian Nemani Nadolo is a sensational attacking winger and Frans Steyn abandoned Springbok rugby four years ago to become a Top 14 journeyman.

Steyn moves to outhalf while fit-again Wallaby flyer Jesse Mogg and new signing Tomás O’Leary are in reserve.

But with Sexton, O’Brien and Healy together again, a Leinster team hasn’t travelled with such menace, such established ability and power to compliment Sexton’s peerless control in over three seasons.

Exciting centre

We will also get to see the most exciting centre partnership, since D’Arcy and O’Driscoll, for a third successive game. Ulster named Jared Payne at fullback again. Game four could well see Robbie Henshaw and

Garry Ringrose

wearing green in Chicago on November 5th.

All the signs of a regenerating Leinster are evident here. A result would prove it.

MONTPELLIER: J Michel; M O'Connor, V Martin, A Dumoulin, N Nadolo; F Steyn, N White; Y Watremez, S Mamukashvili, J Du Plessis; J Du Plessis, P Willemse; F Ouedraogo, A Qera (capt), P Spies. Replacements: R Ruffenach, M Nariashvili, D Kubriashvili, N Van Rensburg, W Liebenberg, T O'Leary, B Botica, J Mogg.

LEINSTER RUGBY: R Kearney; Z Kirchner, G Ringrose, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt); J Sexton, L McGrath; C Healy, J Tracy, M Ross; D Toner, M McCarthy; S O'Brien, J Van Der Flier, J Heaslip. Replacements: S Cronin, J McGrath, M Bent, M Kearney, J Murphy, D Leavy, J Gibson-Park, J Carbery.

Referee: Luke Pearce (England).

Montpellier v Irish opposition in Champions Cup: Nov 2011 – Montpellier 16 Leinster 16, Jan 2012 – Leinster 25 Montpellier 3, Oct 2013 – Montpellier 8 Ulster 25, Jan 2014 – Ulster 27 Montpellier 16. Verdict: Leinster win.

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent