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Montpellier Herault vs Leinster Rugby
European Rugby Champions Cup Pool C
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier,
Saturday, 20th January 2018, 14:00 (13:00 Irish time)

TC: Live on Sky Sports

It was a pretty sweet weekend of European rugby all round for Leinster.

Not only did they win comfortably on Sunday afternoon to win their pool but every other result across the other pools went their way too. The results meant they're now guaranteed a home quarter-final and they only need one point to be top seeds. Being first or second seeds now means a home semi-final provided you're playing one of the other top four seeds so it's definitely a prize worth attaining as they face a Montpellier side coming off a heavy defeat away to Exeter last week.

Montpellier are a difficult side to figure out. They've a squad full of international stars and a top quality coach in Vern Cotter who has them top of the Top14. But they're still liable to implosions, especially away from home and last week's second half collapse in Sandy Park recalled their 57-3 humiliation at the RDS in the same round last season. Despite only having two wins to their name, Montpellier still technically have a chance of qualifying but they would need to beat Leinster with a winning bonus point and then hope Exeter fail to beat Glasgow. Granted Glasgow are at home this week but given the performances of both teams last weekend and their respective motivations, that's quite a long shot to expect the Scots to win. Even if Glasgow do win, Montpellier would still need a lot of other results to go their way.

But Vern Cotter isn't throwing his hat at it and he's picked a full strength side. Benjamin Fall, Timoci Nagusa and Ruan Pienaar return in the backline and Antoine Guillamon and Kelian Galletier return to the pack.

For all Montpellier's motivation (or lack thereof perhaps), Leinster can't take anything for granted against a French team at home. Leinster haven't won in France since 2014 and last season's final pool match should keep their minds focused. Then they took on a Castres team with nothing to play for and Leinster got a handy start going 10-0 up early on. They thought they were on for another enjoyable try-fest but they were shocked when Castres suddenly came to life and started playing. By the end Leinster were lucky to hang on for a 24-all draw, which ultimately cost them any chance of a home semi-final.

As was well sign-posted Leo Cullen has opted to freshen up his squad with the six day turnaround and has made six changes to the team that started last Sunday. The biggest call is resting Johnny Sexton completely with Ross Byrne coming in to start at ten and Joey Carbery coming back from injury to take his place on the bench. Jamison Gibson-Park also comes in to start at scrum-half and Rob Kearney's return means Jordan Larmour switches to the right wing although perhaps they'll switch the physically bigger James Lowe across to take on the huge winger Nemani Nadolo. In the pack Cian Healy, James Ryan and Dan Leavy all come in to start.

It's a big call from Cullen but after the six day turnaround after the Exeter game, he felt the first fifteen were a little flogged. It's a huge vote of confidence in the squad though, especially in young players like Byrne, Ryan and Leavy to come in and keep the standards up.

Leinster have been receiving massive praise all week and are the bookies' favourites to win the tournament, especially given the struggles of traditional powerhouses like Saracens, Clermont and Toulon. But Leinster were hyped up last year too and we all remember how they ultimately crashed and burned.

While a win tomorrow won't prove anything in itself, it would be a good omen of better things to come to get back to winning ways in France and make it a 100% record for the pool.

It won't be easy but Leinster might just have enough about them to do it.

Team Lineups

Montpellier Herault

Leinster Rugby
Teams Benjamin Fall 15 Rob Kearney
Timoci Nagusa 14 Jordan Larmour
Frans Steyn 13 Robbie Henshaw
Jan Serfontein 12 Isa Nacewa (C)
Nemani Nadolo 11 James Lowe
Aaron Cruden 10 Ross Byrne
Ruan Pienaar 9 Jamison Gibson-Park

Mikheil Nariashvili 1 Cian Healy
Bismarck Du Plessis 2 Sean Cronin
Antoine Guillamon 3 Tadhg Furlong
Nicholaas Van Rensburg 4 Devin Toner
Konstantine Mikautadze 5 James Ryan
Kelian Galletier 6 Dan Leavy
Yacouba Camara 7 Josh van der Flier
Louis Picamoles 8 Jack Conan

Replacements Romain Ruffenach 16 Bryan Byrne
Yvan Watremez 17 Jack McGrath
Mohamed Haouas 18 Andrew Porter
Julien Delannoy 19 Ross Molony
Fulgence Ouedraogo 20
Jordi Murphy
Gela Aprasidze 21 Luke McGrath
Joe Tomane 22 Joey Carbery
Jesse Mogg 23 Fergus McFadden

Not Considered
Due to Injury

Tom Daly,
Jamie Heaslip,
Rhys Ruddock,
Adam Byrne,
Sean O'Brien,
Richardt Strauss,
Rory O'Loughlin,
Garry Ringrose,
James Tracy
Officials Referee: Luke Pearce (Eng),
Assistant Referees: Ian Tempest (Eng), Peter Allan (Eng),
TMO: Graham Hughes (Eng)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2018-01-19