Leinster pound 14-man Montpellier to reach quarter-finals

Frans Steyn sent off for French side in first half after high tackle on Johnny Sexton

Leinster backrow Jack Conan stretches out to score his third try in the Champions Cup game against Montpellier at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

Leinster backrow Jack Conan stretches out to score his third try in the Champions Cup game against Montpellier at the RDS. Photograph: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Leinster 57 Montpellier 3

Leinster are back, back in the last eight and as contenders. They became the first side to qualify for the knock-out stages of the European Champions Cup at at throbbing RDS, striding into the last eight by putting big, hulking Montpellier – third in the Top 14 – to the sword with an eight-try rout. Beat Castres away next Friday night and Leinster will have a home quarter-final.

The game was blighted by, but hardly hinged on, a 27th-minute red card for Montpellier’s Springboks outhalf Frans Steyn for a high, one-armed hit on Johnny Sexton. By then Leinster, with 13 home-grown players in their starting line-up to Montpellier’s three Frenchmen, had already drawn the lines in the sand with their daring, high tempo approach and were two tries and 14-3 to the good. Montpellier thus exited the tournament after their third red card in five pool matches.

Such was Leinster’s ambition and desire to play at a daring click from the off that their exit strategies were almost Connacht-esque. The variations in their probing running game were decorated by some cracking tries and a host of handsome contributions.

Sexton, Jamie Heaslip, Devin Toner and co remain the standard bearers, but there’s been an injection of freshness and enthusiasm from the likes of Rory O’Loughlin and Adam Byrne, who utterly eclipsed the mammoth Nemani Nadolo, to go with their supreme fitness and confidence which makes them unrecognisable from last season.

The Leinster think tank were also utterly vindicated in their selection of Jack Conan, who garnished his performance with a hat-trick of tries. The dynamism and skill set of their tight forwards was of a different level to the visitors. Heaslip looks as well as ever, the ever-improving Luke McGrath set the tempo as usual and Sexton was at his best and freely put his body on the line.

This was vintage Leinster really.

A frenetic start saw Leinster run the Montpellier backs through phases from deep and set the tone, before Steyn missed a penalty from near halfway. Leinster had some important defending to do, Toner coming through a lineout maul to stymie the drive, and after Sexton tackled Steyn, Garry Ringrose did enough to turn and fingertip the offload so that Joe Tomane knocked on.

But the home side kept probing, Nacewa taking a penetrating, outside-in line off Ringrose’s offload and was only denied a try by Nic White’s retreating tackle. Not for long. The livewire Luke McGrath peeled infield with a trail of runners from more quick off the top lineout ball from Toner, and O’Loughlin sliced through before linking with Robbie Henshaw. From the recycle, Jack McGrath trucked it up and ruthless clearing out by Heaslip and Tadhg Furlong was the key to the rapid-fire ball with which Luke McGrath found Sexton. He weighed up his options before giving the try-scoring looped pass to Nacewa for his sixth try of the pool stages.

Sexton converted, and after a penalty by Steyn soon the home crowd were serenading “Eee-saa” again. From Sexton’s skip pass, quick hands by Conan released Nacewa, who deftly chipped Nagusa and just before being hit by Joffrey Michel he re-gathered the bouncing ball and finger-tipped a pass inside for Conan to gallop home from 20 metres. Wondrous skills, if just normal from Nacewa, and perhaps the pick of a pretty tasty bunch of tries.

Whereupon Adam Byrne took centre stage. Catching the restart, he slalomed through the Montpellier ranks, to be supported by the dynamic Heaslip. A couple of recycles later, Steyn came through late on Sexton with his swinging arm. It was at the least reckless, at worst a malicious cheap shot. After deliberating with his TMO and Wayne Barnes, JP Doyle had no option but to brandish the red card.

Nacewa landed the penalty as Sexton underwent a HIA, which thankfully he passed quickly, and in his absence it was Ross Byrne who landed a fine conversion to another cracking try. Byrne was creator in chief and finisher, making a leaping catch above Michel on half-way to Luke McGrath’s perfect box kick, running on and then, when his lobbed pass infield was deflected by Henry Immelman, the supporting Conan gathered and returned the pass for Byrne to touch down.

The half even ended with Leinster repelling two attacking Montpellier lineouts, the first thanks to a thumping hit by Sexton on Nagusa, and on the resumption they were indebted to another big tackle by Sexton on Fulgence Ouedraogo.

Leinster’s pressure defence almost yielded a try for Rob Kearney, on for the injured Nacewa, but in the event, Josh van der Flier’s poaching won the penalty which led to a powerful lineout drive, and Conan then barrelled through Antoine Battut and Tomane for the bonus try under the posts.

With that, Montpellier’s big guns departed, and the home bench only added to the party.

On 58 minutes, Nadolo finally had his first run of the match – and was felled, old school, by Van der Flier. A big lineout rumble inside halfway showed Leinster’s clinical side, as did Luke McGrath speeding through after one hand-off.

Cutting loose, Cian Healy applied a close-range finish before Conan again started his own try-scoring move with a towering catch off the kick-off, and then muscled over to complete his hat-trick. Ringrose, by now running amok, sashayed over for the eighth try. They could be significant.

SCORING SEQUENCE: 15 mins Nacewa try, Sexton con 7-0; 21 mins Steyn pen 7-3; 24 mins Conan try, Sexton con 14-3; 27 m ins Nacewa pen 17-3; 27 mins A Byrne try, R Byrne con 24-3; (half-time 24-3); 55 mins Conan try, Sexton con 31-3; 65 mins L McGrath try, R Byrne 38-3; 68 mins Healy try, R Byrne con 45-3; 70 mins Conan try 50-3; 75 mins Ringrose try, R Byrne con 57-3.

LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa (capt); Adam Byrne, Garry Ringrose, Robbie Henshaw, Rory O’Loughlin; Johnny Sexton, Luke McGrath; Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Tadhg Furlong; Devin Toner, Hayden Triggs; Jack Conan, Josh Van Der Flier, Jamie Heaslip.

Replacements: Ross Byrne for Sexton (27-32 and 53 mins), Rob Kearney for Nacewa (42 mins), Cian Healy for J McGrath (53 mins), Richardt Strauss for Tracy, Michael Bent for Furlong (both 56 mins), Ross Molony for Triggs (64 mins), Jamison Gibson-Park for L McGrath (66 mins), Dan Leavy for Henshaw (69 mins).

MONTPELLIER: Joffrey Michel; Timoci Nagusa, Vincent Martin, Joseph Tomane, Nemani Nadolo; Frans Steyn, Nic White; Mikheil Nariashvili, Shalva Mamukashvili, Jannie Du Plessis; Paul Willemse, Konstantine Mikautadze; Fulgence Ouedraogo, Akapusi Qera (capt), Pierre Spies.

Replacements: Henry Immelman for Qera (27 mins), Charles Geli for Mamukashvili, Antoine Battut for Willemse (both 43 mins), Yvan Watremez for Nariashvili, Davit Kubriashvili for Du Plessis (both 53 mins), Tomás O’Leary for White (60 mins), Kelian Galletier for Ouedraogo (64 mins), Jesse Mogg for Michmel (72 mins). Sent-off: Steyn (27 mins).

Referee: JP Doyle (England).

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