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Leinster Rugby vs Montpellier Herault RC
RDS Showground, Dublin
Saturday, 21st January 2012, 13:30

Television: Live Sky Sports 1, Highlights TG4 21:15

Last week, Leinster won on the road and once again it wasn't pretty. Glasgow's record in Europe at Firhill is impressive and you can see why. The pitch is narrow, the ground is heavy and Glasgow are very well organised and conditioned. They were a lot cuter at the breakdown this time, slowing down Leinster's ball and they also shut down a lot of the main ball carriers.

When Glasgow drew level at 16-all, the momentum seemed with them and it took a superb restart win from Devin Toner to get Leinster going again. It eventually led to Isaac Boss darting over for his try but even after that there was more drama to endure as Leinster had to defend for their lives for the last five minutes with 14 men after Sean O'Brien was yellow-carded. But once again, Leinster showed their character and sheer will to win by holding on. It qualified them for the quarter-finals with a match to spare, but their work still isn't done.

To obtain a home quarter-final they will have to win tomorrow. The home quarter-final has become vital both in terms of challenging for the tournament and for the financial health of the province. However a win tomorrow is anything but guaranteed, especially as Montpellier have shown by their team selection that they will turn up to play.

For Montpellier it's been a tough first ever season in the Heineken Cup. However they certainly haven't thrown in the towel like other French teams have done in the past. They went unbeaten at home drawing to both Leinster and Glasgow, before beating Bath last weekend. And while they lost two their away games so far, both were narrow defeats by three and five points respectively.

With a vital Top 14 match against Stade Francais coming up next Friday, it was expected that Montpellier would send out a largely second-string team. However in a refreshing move for a French team, they've decided to send over a near full strength team. They actually named a weaker team last week, which still beat Bath. This week they've made 13 changes to that team with a lot more familiar names coming in.

In the backline Fijian winger Timoci Nagusa is the only one to retain his jersey and the dangerous Argentineans Martin Bustos Moyano and Lucas Amorosino join him in the back three. Yoan Audrin and Paul Bosch come in at centre and their talisman Francois Trinh-Duc and the experienced Julien Tomas are the halfbacks.

In the pack Mickael Demarco is the only one to hold onto his place and he partners South African Drickus Hancke in the second row. They've named a powerful international front row in Samoan Na'ama Leleimalefaga, Argentinean Agustin Creevy and Georgian George Jgenti. Fulgence Ouedraogo, who was superb in the drawn match back in November, captains the team on the flank with the massive Georgian Mamuka Gorgodze on the other flank. New Zealand number eight Alex Tulou completes what is a very strong line-up.

Their coach Fabien Galthie is obviously hopeful that they can still qualify for the Amlin Cup. Even if the odds are largely stacked against that, he'd hope his first-choice team will benefit from a tough match before meeting Stade Francais, who'll feature Leinster old boys in Michael Cheika, Felipe Contepomi and Stan Wright.

Leinster have made eight changes to the team that started last week in Glasgow with six players coming in and two positional switches.

Fergus McFadden switches to the right wing to allow Eoin O'Malley take his place at outside centre. The other change to the backline sees Isaac Boss come in at scrum-half in place of Eoin Reddan. Boss will partner Johnny Sexton at half-back after he shook off the ankle injury which affected him for the second half last week.

In the pack, Richardt Strauss and Jamie Hagan come into the front row in place of Sean Cronin and Mike Ross. Hagan's inclusion is something of a shock as he hasn't been involved in the Heineken Cup matches so far this season. He'll have his work cut out against Na'ama Leleimalefaga who at 5' 10'' and 22 stone, is nearly as wide as he is tall. However, if he can come through this test, it could be the making of Hagan and really lay down a marker for the rest of the season.

The other changes see Damian Browne come into the second row in place of Devin Toner and Rhys Ruddock replace Shane Jennings, with Sean O'Brien moving across to openside flanker. Leo Cullen captains the team, despite looking likely to go for an operation on his troublesome Achilles next week in Sweden. It's noticeable that essentially Joe Schmidt has named his "away" team with Boss and Browne starting and Ruddock filling in for the injured Kevin McLaughlin to beef up the back row. He obviously wants to match Montpellier physically in the early stages, before unleashing the pace of Reddan, Jennings and Cronin from the bench in the latter stages.

All week the expectation was that Leinster would have a handy win against a second-string Montpellier team and that the biggest danger would be complacency on the part of the home team. The team announcements have destroyed that theory and both the fans and players will know they will have to earn that home quarter-final. For Leinster, the key thing will be to match Montpellier physically in the early exchanges, especially at the breakdown. If they can keep them at arm's length going into the second half, then the Montpellier player's minds might understandably start drifting to their big match next Friday. Pride in itself will only get a team so far, especially if it's a really physical contest.

Either way, it will require a big performance from Leinster and with tickets like gold dust for this match, even with the 1:30 kick-off, the RDS should really be buzzing. Leinster should be able to get the win they need, but you suspect there will be more drama to endure first.

Also, good luck to the Leinster 'A' team who take on Pontypridd in Donnybrook on Sunday (2pm kick-off) in the British & Irish Cup quarter-final. It's free in for season ticket holders so hopefully there will be a good crowd there to shout on the young guys.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Montpellier Herault RC
Teams Robert Kearney
15 Lucas Amorosino
Fergus McFadden 14 Timoci Nagusa
Eoin O'Malley
13 Yoan Audrin
Gordon D'Arcy 12 Paul Bosch
Isa Nacewa
11 Martin Bustos Moyano
Jonathan Sexton
10 Francois Trinh-Duc
Isaac Boss 9 Julien Tomas

Cian Healy 1 Na'ama Leleimalefaga
Richardt Strauss 2 Agustin Creevy
Jamie Hagan 3 George Jgenti
Leo Cullen (C) 4 Drickus Hancke
Damian Browne 5 Mickael Demarco
Rhys Ruddock
6 Fulgence Ouedraogo (C)
Sean O'Brien
7 Mamuka Gorgodze
Jamie Heaslip
8 Alex Tulou

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Rassie van Vuuren
Heinke Van Der Merwe 17 Juan Figallo
Mike Ross 18 Maximiliano Bustos
Devin Toner 19 Joe Tuineau
Shane Jennings 20 Vassili Bost
Eoin Reddan 21 Benoit Paillaugue
Ian Madigan 22 Santiago Fernandez
Fionn Carr
23 Geoffrey Doumayrou

Not Considered
due to Injury
Mat Berquist,
Shane Horgan,
Brian O'Driscoll,
Dominic Ryan,
Simon Shawe,
Eamonn Sheridan,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Andrew Conway
Officials Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Tim Wigglesworth, Robin Goodliffe (both RFU)
4th Official: Ken Henley-Willis (IRFU)
5th Official: Gary Glennon (IRFU)
TMO: David Grashoff (RFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-01-20