Leinster well-equipped to rise to the challenge again
Leo Cullen’s rejigged team aiming to make it six wins from six in Pool Three
Rose Byrne: mans the outhalf berth for Leinster against Montpellier. Photograph: Oisín Keniry/Inpho
Montpellier v Leinster, Altrad Stadium, Saturday, 1.0, Irish time - Live on Sky Sports
Leo Cullen’s uncanny judgement in rotating players without compromising Leinster’s run of victories in the Champions Cup, and also the three inter-provincials over Christmas and New Year, has been a key factor in the sequence of success that has provided a home quarter-final and the probability of a number one seeding.
Leinster’s head coach makes six changes from the victory over the Glasgow Warriors including omitting from the match-day 23 two of last weekend’s standout performers, Jonathan Sexton and Scott Fardy, while the other four drop to the replacements.
In essence he’s challenging those to whom he has given an opportunity to prove they can manage the task and potentially bringing to an end a three- year run without a win in France that includes a draw and a defeat against their hosts, Montpellier.
Ross Byrne gets to run the game in the pivotal outhalf role as he did when Leinster beat the French club 24-17 earlier in the campaign. The Irish province retains eight of that team while their hosts have 11, including seven of the pack.
Rob Kearney returns at fullback, Jordan Larmour switches to the right wing, where he will look to emerge from the huge shadow cast by the outrageously gifted and gargantuan Nemani Nadolo; the Fijian has scored four tries in three games against Leinster. Jamison Gibson Park is the third change behind the scrum while Cian Healy, James Ryan and Dan Leavy come into the pack.
Joey Carbery is among the replacements having recovered from the arm injury sustained while playing for Ireland against Fiji in November. One area in which Leinster excelled against the Warriors was the lineout maul and it’ll be interesting to note if it’s as effective against a bigger pack and without a player who helped to tweak it here and there.
Leinster number eight Jack Conan explained: “I think it’s [the lineout maul] been simplified. Scott Fardy has come in and he’s been massive with that. He’s obviously got a lot of experience with the Wallabies and the Brumbies. We’ve just gone back to basics with it.
“It’s something we’ve used a lot of in the last few months and it’s been a great source of entry into games for us. We back our fitness and it’s a way to cut the legs out from underneath other teams and tire out the pack. I think with the pace we have out wide as well, to narrow defences into defending our maul and being able to play out wide has shown great dividends so far.”
The visitors have picked a team to do exactly that, have a go, and to that end seemed well equipped with a modicum of decent possession to score tries, provided they keep a high tempo against a much bigger but slightly cumbersome Montpellier pack.
Leinster have risen to every challenge in the tournament so it would be churlish not to suggest that they cannot make it third time lucky in recent seasons at the Altrad Stadium.
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.
Referee: Luke Pearce (England)