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Saturday 10 December 2016

Sexton to find route around Montpellier

Leinster have to shore up their leaky maul defence

Leinster's Jonny Sexton
Leinster's Jonny Sexton

It looks like it's thumbs-up for Jonathan Sexton's return to Leinster's starting ranks in Montpellier.

The Ireland out-half's determination to influence the current Champions Cup campaign was halted by what coach Leo Cullen described as a "low Grade-1" hamstring strain in training last Tuesday week.

Twenty-year-old Joey Carbery put on show his gifts to guide Leinster to five points.

The general consensus had been that Leinster would refuse to take a chance on Sexton doing more extensive damage with such a short, period for recovery.

However, in typical fashion, Sexton has been assiduously following the instructions from the medical and rehabilitation staff at the club.

The signs took on an altogether more positive outlook earlier in the week.

The 30-year-old has pleased everyone with his progress and is in the position of having to hit his final markers this morning to be selected at what is his 'high noon'.

If there are any late hiccups, Carbery will continue to gain confidence and build expectation in the most hostile environment in his short career.

All the game management of Sexton or game-breaking skills of Carbery, from the bench, will count for nothing if they don't receive enough of the right kind of ball to turn possession into danger and, from there, into points.

The shortcomings in Leinster's maul defence have been papered over by the strength of their maul in attack.

The facts are the Munster maul made its way to their line with all the hurry of a welcome guest at the Aviva.

Leo Cullen knew it was coming and their main man coming through the middle, Devin Toner, could do nothing about it.

"I think that was the first maul drive that has been scored against us (this season)," said the second row recently.

"I don't think we conceded one in the League last year.

"We had a couple in the European Cup - against Toulon I think.

"This year, that was our first in the League, so I don't think we need to reinvent the wheel."

One week on, Castres exploited the soft centre of Leinster there to be the platform for their two tries off the back of very limited opportunities.

It does not bode well for what Montpellier will bring to that specialist area.

The importance of the contest there cannot be overstated.

Leinster will have to counter the grunt of giants with total aggression and technique.

"I think body height across the board needs to drop because they're a far greater threat at the ball," noted scrum coach John Fogarty.

He even spread the gospel all the way through the set-piece and on into Leinster's ruck work.

Montpellier's World Cup-winning coach takes a pragmatic view on the game.

"Jake White, defensive rucks, and looking at the nature and the size of the bodies they have, if they get themselves in that space, it's going to be incredibly hard to shift them.

"So, making sure that across the board we drop our height, that we're nice and dynamic in our carry and that we can be over the ball when we ruck is a huge part of it.

"The same threats are there with scrum and maul. They've used their scrum very effectively in the Top 14 to get good field position and they've used their maul to score tries.

"They've done that really, really well," he warned.

"But, for us as a forward group, that's the focus; that we're accurate with our shoulder work, have good body height and we can deal with their set-piece.

"For me, they're the two huge things."

Only then will Leinster have the platform from which to launch their wide game.

They will have to figure out when to hoof or move the ball wide to tire out Montpellier's monster men.

This is where Sexton comes into his own.

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