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Leinster Rugby vs Montpellier Herault Rugby
European Rugby Champions Cup
RDS Showground, Dublin,
Saturday, 14th October 2017, 13:00

TV: Live on Sky Sports

So it's another early kick-off for the second week running.

The Ballsbridge publicans will be crying into their dishrags as they remember the pre-BT Sports days when Irish teams weren't routinely given the poxiest kick-off spots going. Now the English clubs get all the prime spots and with BT Sports taking over exclusive coverage of the tournament from next season, non-English clubs better get used to the shit end of the stick. Still though the atmosphere will crackle at the RDS like it never does at the Aviva so get there good and early, especially if you're on the terrace.

Last week Leinster improved considerably to beat Munster more comprehensively than the final scoreline suggested. It was far from perfect and they'll have been annoyed to have let Munster in for three tries and a losing bonus point in a game they controlled from the start. But there was a lot of positives in the performance of key men like Tadgh Furlong, Jonny Sexton and Joey Carbery. The linespeed in defence was a lot better and they had a much better shape in attack. It was a good performance but they'll need to step up another level to beat an in-form Montpellier team.

Weirdly enough, when the draw for the pool was made in the summer the general reaction was that Leinster had got a fairly handy one. Maybe that was because there was no traditional big names like a Toulon, Saracens or Clermont, but this is a tough group. There's the English champions Exeter, the form team in the Pro14 with the only 100% record in Glasgow and big-spenders Montpellier who have started the season very impressively.

Montpellier's last visit to the RDS was their worst result in European competition as Leinster trashed them 57-3. It was Leinster's best performance of last season and they were well in charge of the game before Francois Steyn's red card for a vicious and idiotic high tackle on Sexton. After that, Montpellier pretty much threw in the towel and were a shambles long before the end. However there has been big changes in the summer, none bigger than the replacement of the over-rated coach Jake White in favour of former Scotland coach Vern Cotter. The club also shelled out some big money to bring some brains into the operation. The doltish Steyn is still around but he's been relieved of the number ten jersey by the brilliant if mercurial All Black Aaron Cruden. Springbok Jan Serfontein have also signed up along with the brilliant young French flanker Yacouba Camara from Toulouse while local hero Louis Picamoles was bought out of his Northampton contract to return home.

However potentially their smartest signing may well be a player who was effectively "let go" by Irish rugby. In Ruan Pienaar, they have an accomplished and experienced player who can turn narrow defeats into wins. Though past his brilliant best, he still felt he had a lot to offer and he and Ulster felt very aggrieved to be have been forced to leave the place that he had made his home after the IRFU refused to sanction another contract. Many at Ulster believed that decision was directly related to Leinster being allowed to sign Jamison Gibson-Park last season. So Pienaar will arrive with plenty of motivation to show the Irish rugby blazers what they let go. It's not just about their new signings though. Montpellier already had a squad full of quality internationals with Fijian wingers Nemani Nadolo and Timoci Nagusa and Australia's Joe Tomane and Jesse Mogg. There's also no shortage of grunt in the pack with the likes of former Springbok brothers Bismarck and Jannie du Plessis plus plenty of South African beef in the second row Jacques du Plessis, Nico Janse van Rensburg and Paul Willemse.

Cotter has named a strong team with the only notable omission being Cruden, who is injured. So 19-year-old Thomas Darmon plays at ten instead with Pienaar at scrum-half. Steyn plays in the centre with Joseph Tomane and Jesse Mogg, Benjamin Fall and the massive Nemani Nadolo make up a quality back three. Louis Picamoles returns to captain the team from number eight so Kelian Galletier switches to number six with Yacouba Camara staying at seven. Jacques Du Plessis and Nicholaas Van Rensburg are the second rows and Mikheil Nariashvili, Bismarck Du Plessis and Antoine Guillamon make up a strong front row.

For Leinster the big shock is that Johnny Sexton picked up an injury last week and misses the game. There's no getting away from it, it's a massive blow which will seriously affect Leinster's chances of winning the game. Ross Byrne deputises for Sexton and the only other change to the team from last week sees the return of Isa Nacewa in the centre. This means Robbie Henshaw moves to outside centre in place of Rory O'Loughlin, who is omitted from the match-day squad entirely. If it's not injury-related, that's incredibly harsh considering he scored two tries last week.

It's a real shame that both star out-halves miss the game and a lot will depend on how their young deputies cope with the game. Leinster beat Montpellier last time by running the legs off them and keeping their big pack moving around. With an unseasonably warm day forecast for tomorrow, they could well try that again. It will be seriously tough though without Sexton to run the show.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Montpellier Herault Rugby
Teams Joey Carbery 15 Jesse Mogg
Adam Byrne 14 Benjamin Fall
Robbie Henshaw 13 Joseph Tomane
Isa Nacewa (C) 12 Frans Steyn
Barry Daly 11 Nemani Nadolo
Ross Byrne 10 Thomas Darmon
Luke McGrath 9 Ruan Pienaar

Jack McGrath 1 Mikheil Nariashvili
James Tracy 2 Bismarck Du Plessis
Tadhg Furlong 3 Antoine Guillamon
Devin Toner 4 Jacques Du Plessis
Scott Fardy 5 Nicholaas Van Rensburg
Rhys Ruddock 6 Kelian Galletier
Josh van der Flier 7 Yacouba Camara
Jack Conan 8 Louis Picamoles (C)

Replacements Sean Cronin
16 Romain Ruffenach
Cian Healy 17 Yvan Watremez
Michael Bent 18 Davit Kubriashvili
Ross Molony 19 Julien Delannoy
Jordi Murphy 20
Wiaan Liebenberg
Jamison Gibson-Park 21 Benoit Paillaugue
Noel Reid 22 Timoci Nagusa
Fergus McFadden 23 Joffrey Michel

Not Considered
due to Injury
Tom Daly,
Peadar Timmins,
Jamie Heaslip,
Garry Ringrose,
Richardt Strauss,
Rob Kearney,
Dan Leavy,
Ian Nagle,
James Ryan,
Johnny Sexton,
Sean O'Brien

Aaron Cruden
Officials Referee: Wayne Barnes (RFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2017-10-13