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Montpellier Herault RC (13) 16 - 16 (6) Leinster Rugby
Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier,
Saturday, 12th November, 2011, 14:30

Leinster began their European title defence with a tough away battle with last years French finalists Montpellier. Despite a poor run of form in the Top 14, winning only 2 games of 9 played this season, Montpellier gladly welcomed back their World Cup internationals to the fold right in time for the European champions arrival in town.

French teams are unpredictable in this contest. Selection is always a guessing game and some coaches seem eager to focus on the domestic title rather than risking their first 15 in a European cup campaign that will probably be fruitless. It was suggested Montpellier would do the same but it was no such luck for Leinster.

It was never going to be easy, no chance, but Montpellier put up more of a fight than admittedly expected. Clever play was the name of the game and Montpellier had certainly done their homework. Rather than flinging the ball around with great abandon like most French sides, Montpellier decided to use their key, the pack. And they used it to its fullest extent, clearing out every ruck and counter rucking as if they were playing schoolboys. Leinster struggled from the outset to deal with their power up front, and the inability for the Champions to commit men to the breakdown left turnover ball plentiful and kept the inconsistent Dave Pearson busy blowing his whistle as the breakdown became a mess of bodies and balls held on.

Defence too was all part of Montpelliers plan and it worked to great effect. Wave after wave of Leinster attack was stopped, pushed back and, when the ball hit the deck, the pack made Leinsters life very difficult by keeping the ball slow all game. The first try of the game came from a Leinster attack but the points were for Montpellier, an attack fell apart and the ball was hoofed up field, despite an excellent chase from McFadden the bounce was cruel and Montpellier leapt on their luck, placing the ball beneath the sticks. There was a call for impedance, but Pearson was never going to give it.

The second half though, despite early rumblings from Montpellier going forward, was all about Leinster. Long have the men in blue dropped the wilting violets tag and that icy resolve to see a game out was very evident. Attacks came strong and fast and contained a clinical aspect that was so reminiscent of last year. But Montpellier, and their pack, held on excellently. It was only when Sean Cronin, who was sublime, came on that the line was broken and Leinster got a much deserved try. Sexton had kept Leinster within touching distance all game and sealed the draw in the final act, kicking 3 points to go 16 all. One has to think that if the game had even five more minutes it would have certainly been a Leinster victory.

Montpellier may feel hard done by, losing a home game with a somewhat controversial last kick, but based on current form a draw at home to the Champions isn't a bad result. Their pack can certainly pat themselves on the back for a job well done. The mammoth Gorgodze was just superb on the flank, Georgian's must feed their young something strange as their ability to produce excellent, wrecking ball forwards is almost inordinate.

Leinster weren't their best but they weren't the worst either. This is a team still gelling together after the World Cup players have returned and will hit better form as the tournament progresses. No way will Montpellier have such luck on the return fixture in January. The midfield is still a little unsettled though and next weeks game against Glasgow should perhaps see Schmidt try and tweak the centre pairing ever so slightly.

by Patrick Fennelly, © 2011-11-14