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Leinster Rugby vs Montpellier Herault Rugby
European Champions Cup Pool 4 Round 5
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Friday, 13th January 2017, 19:45

Television: Live: Sky Sports

This is the big one!!!

This is the game which will tell Leinster if their apparent progress this season is real or just an attractive facade. Leinster have a beautifully clear target, win and they're in the quarter-finals, no matter what else happens. However, anyone expecting a comfortable win will be in for a surprise on Friday evening. Montpellier are a serious outfit with huge men in their backs and forwards. They're third in the Top 14 and are coached by a World Cup winner in Jake White. Their massive budget has seen them assemble a squad of top quality internationals from around the globe. What's more, they won't lack for motivation as it's win or bust for them after their surprise defeat at Castres in Round 4. Leinster got a losing bonus point with the last play of the game in the away fixture, but it papered over the cracks of what was a fairly poor performance. Montpellier looked dominant as they battered Leinster into submission and should really have won well but they tired in the last 20 minutes and a young and spirited Leinster bench led a revival which culminated in Isa's last minute try and conversion to secure the bonus point.

So it's a tough task ahead but there are reasons for optimism too. Back in October neither Jack McGrath or Tadgh Furlong (two of the top props in the world by common consent) started that day. Johnny Sexton started but wasn't fit enough to last more than a half, whereas this time he looks in much better nick after blowing off some cobwebs in last week's handy run-out against Zebre. His half-back partner Luke McGrath was still finding his feet back in October and it was debatable whether Jamison Gibson-Park should start ahead of him. Three months later and McGrath is looking razor sharp and has cemented his position as starting scrum-half. He has improved on the weaknesses in his game and is really showing what a dangerous broken field runner he is with three tries in his last three starts. Two other players with plenty of tries to their names are Adam Byrne and Rory O'Loughlin who have both scored seven each since that game in Montpellier. They've brought real pace to the team and are relishing playing outside the centre partnership of Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose, which just gets better every time they play together. So there's more than enough to feel good about Leinster as they take on their biggest challenge of the season.

For Montpellier, it's do or die and they'll be hoping their massive Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo can have a similiar impact to the game in October, when he scored two tries in a man of the match performance. He starts in a team that shows just three changes to the side that beat Bordeaux last week with Joffrey Michel starting at full back and Jannie Du Plessis and Konstantine Mikautadze both coming into the front five. As in October, Frans Steyn is entrusted with the fly-half duties and Fulgence Ouedraogo, Akapusi Qera and Pierre Spies will present a serious challenge in the back row.

For Leinster that back row battle unfortunately won't feature Sean O'Brien, who has picked up a knock, despite appearing in robust shape last week. Luckily there's a quality replacement in Josh van der Flier while Jack Conan moves from number eight to blindside to take on a lot of the ball carrying duties that O'Brien normally performs. Jamie Heaslip starts at number eight in one of five changes in all from the team that started last week. Jack McGrath and Tadgh Furlong come back in at prop and the return of Isa Nacewa at full back is the only change to an exciting looking backline. Rob Kearney is fit enough to be named on the bench.

Leinster really need to have a smart game plan for this one. They can't avoid a forward battle, but they need to pick and choose when to take on the Montpellier pack and when to move them around. They will also need to be on the top of their game defensively and really get up off the line quickly to chop the big Montpellier ball carriers down before they can get up a head of steam. The lineout will need to be better than it has been recently and the tactical kicking can't be loose, especially with their back three. It's going to be a tough night but hopefully Leinster can show they've really stepped up this season and get the win to seal a spot in the quarters.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Montpellier Herault Rugby
Teams Isa Nacewa (C)
15 Joffrey Michel
Adam Byrne 14 Timoci Nagusa
Garry Ringrose 13 Vincent Martin
Robbie Henshaw 12 Joseph Tomane
Rory O'Loughlin 11 Nemani Nadolo
Johnny Sexton
10 Frans Steyn
Luke McGrath 9 Nic White

Jack McGrath 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
James Tracy 2 Shalva Mamukashvili
Tadhg Furlong 3 Jannie Du Plessis
Devin Toner 4 Paul Willemse
Hayden Triggs 5 Konstantine Mikautadze
Jack Conan 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo
Josh van der Flier 7 Akapusi Qera
Jamie Heaslip 8 Pierre Spies

Replacements Richardt Strauss 16 Charles Geli
Cian Healy 17 Yvan Watremez
Michael Bent 18 Davit Kubriashvili
Ross Molony 19 Antoine Battut
Dan Leavy 20
Kelian Galletier
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Tomas O'Leary
Ross Byrne 22 Henry Immelman
Rob Kearney 23 Jesse Mogg

Not Considered
due to Injury
Jordi Murphy,
James Ryan,
Mike Ross,
Ian Fitzpatrick,
Fergus McFadden,
Cathal Marsh,
Dave Kearney,
Joey Carbery,
Sean Cronin,
Sean O'Brien,
Rhys Ruddock

Bismarck Du Plessis,
Alexandre Dumoulin,
Marvin O'Connor,
Wiaan Liebenberg
Officials Referee: JP Doyle (Eng),
Assistant Referees: Wayne Barnes (Eng), Simon McConnell (Eng),
TMO: Stuart Terheege (Eng),
Citing Commissioner: Stefano Marrama (Ita)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2017-01-12