Tuesday 19 February 2019

Acid Test lies ahead for young guns

Champions Cup Round 6 Montpellier v Leinster Today, Live Sky Sports Action (1.0)

Leinster star Jordan Larmour faces a huge test against giant Montpellier wing Nemani Nadolo. Pic: Sportsfile
Leinster star Jordan Larmour faces a huge test against giant Montpellier wing Nemani Nadolo. Pic: Sportsfile
Nemani Nadolo of Montpellier hands off Leinster’s Robbie Henshaw during the Champions Cup match at the RDS

It says everything about Leinster's current standing that they will walk out in Montpellier at lunchtime this afternoon without Jonathan Sexton, Sean O'Brien, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock and Garry Ringrose.

And still expect to hold their own.

It is a measure of the improvement of Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan and Ross Byrne in the last two years, the rise of James Ryan and Jordan Larmour these last six months and the arrival of the electric James Lowe.

This is all anchored by the experience of Rob Kearney, Isa Nacewa, Robbie Henshaw, Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Tadhg Furlong and Devin Toner.

There is also the bench impact of Andrew Porter, Jordi Murphy, Luke McGrath, Fergus McFadden and fit-again Joey Carbery as a solid back-up plan.

However, Montpellier have countered Leinster with a giant-sized proposition.And not just in the shape of Nemani Nadolo on the left wing.


They have power and strength all along their spine from hooker Bismarck du Plessis back to number eigth Louis Picamoles and out to Timoci Nagusa and Nadolo.

To top it all, there is the game management of Ruan Pienaar and the game-breaking of Aaron Cruden to mesmerise at half back.

Overall, Leinster coach Leo Cullen has decided to take a shot to nothing with the cushion of qualification secured.

He is also safe in the knowledge that they have five points to spare over Pool Two leaders Clermont-Auvergne and Pool Five leaders Toulon.

For, even if they lose without a bonus-point, Leinster have a 30-point adavantage over Clermont-Auvergne and a 37-point advantage over Toulon in the race to be a Top-2 seed which is decided by points-difference when the top clubs from different Pools finish on the same points.

Whatever about what Clermont will do to The Ospreys at Stade Marcel Michelin, Toulon will be hard-pressed to come away with a one-point win from The Scarlets.

That is not to suggest Leinster will travel like a French club would in similar circumstances.

The organisation has invested in The Academy and in a commitment to selecting on form.

These are no lambs to the slaughter.

In some places, they are young men out to prove a point to Cullen.

These are cubs cutting their teeth where they will learn more in one game than in one PRO14 League regular season.

There is no greater challenge than Jordan Larmour's task in staring down Nadolo, who has been a problem for Leinster in the recent past.

Will the 20-year-old be able to cope with the power? How will Nadolo handle Larmour's footwork?

The fearlessness of youth is reflected in the baggage Jack Conan won't carry into The Altrad Stadium.

"I wouldn't have a great recollection of Leinster going away to France," he recalled.

"But I know it's somewhere we've struggled in the last few years, even last year, drawing away to Castres and losing away to Montpellier.

"You know, it's not an easy place to go and play. It means a lot to those lads when they're at home.

"We know we'll have to be at our best."

They will have to get there without many of their best.

Montpellier: B Fall; T Nagusa, F Steyn, J Serfontein, N Nadolo; A Cruden, R Pienaar; M Nariashvili, B du Plessis, A Guillamon, N van Rensburg, K Mikautadze, K Galletier, Y Camara, L Picamoles (capt). Replacements: R Ruffenach, Y Watremez, M Haouas, J Delannoy, F Ouedraogo; G Aprasidze, J Tomane, J Mogg.

Leinster: R Kearney; J Larmour, R Henshaw, I Nacewa (capt), J Lowe; R Byrne, J Gibson-Park; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong, D Toner, J Ryan, D Leavy, J van der Flier, J Conan. Replacements: B Byrne, J McGrath, A Porter, R Molony, J Murphy; L McGrath, J Carbery, F McFadden.

Verdict: Montpellier.

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