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Wednesday 25 April 2018

Leinster complete clean sweep by taking scalp of French Top 14 leaders Montpellier

Montpellier 14 Leinster 23

Leinster’s Isa Nacewa, Robbie Henshaw and Fergus McFadden celebrate their victory over Montpellier. Photo: Sportsfile
Leinster’s Isa Nacewa, Robbie Henshaw and Fergus McFadden celebrate their victory over Montpellier. Photo: Sportsfile

"He's a two-man job." - Robbie Henshaw, October 2017.

Nemani Nadolo had hurt Leinster for four tries in three Champions Cup matches in the last two seasons.

They would have to leave their marks all over the marked man.

They knew, if they could limit the Fijian's impact, it would go a long way towards completing the clean sweep of six rounds in Europe.

"It really is two men on Nadolo every time," echoed Shane Horgan in the commentary box.

"He always manages to brush off at least one. Leinster have dealt with him pretty effectively."

Sure enough, it was Henshaw who was given the responsibility of not leaving the eager novice Jordan Larmour one-on-one with the Montpellier monster.

It was no coincidence that the Athlone man was always in the vicinity when Nadolo touched the ball in The Altrad Stadium.

The Leinster outside centre stuck his targets for 16 tackles, missing two in the process, the second on Nadolo.

Try-saver

Overall, Nadolo was taken down twice by Tadhg Furlong, once for a try-saver at the end of the first-half.

Henshaw was involved in six shut-downs, making three of those on his own and assisting Rob Kearney, Larmour and Jack Conan for three others.

It must also be noted how Larmour twice took down the big man on his own merit by smartly using Nadolo's weight against him.

Even then, Leinster just about contained the Fijian, who made a game-leading 102 metres from 14 carries, making three clean breaks and beating five defenders.

Unsurprisingly, the next best was Leinster's James Lowe finding 98 metres from 15 carries, making two breaks for four defenders beaten.

The difference was that Lowe passed seven times compared to two from Nadolo as well as off-loading twice in playing a more creative role than the Montpellier monster.

It came as no surprise to witness how fellow New Zealander Jamison Gibson-Park was the man most naturally on Lowe's wavelength.

The scrum-half twice calmly taking unorthodox, reflex passes, the first to open the space for Ross Byrne's try in the fifth minute.

Of course, the creativity comes in tandem with the risky chances taken by Lowe.

This was most notable when throwing the ball straight to the aforementioned Nadolo with Kearney and Lowe recovering quickly to put the big man down.

The point is Leinster had a plan that worked well, Henshaw training one eye on the man in front of him and one on Nadolo whenever possible.

There cannot be enough said, or written, about how invaluable Henshaw's energy is to Leinster.

It all added up to the current Leinster side's first notable scalp in France in what only was the second time the Top-14 leaders Montpellier have been beaten at the Altrad this season.

Focus

As strains of Molly Malone rang out around the stadium, hooker Seán Cronin embraced the moment.

"The big focus for us is that we've struggled the last number of years coming over," said the Limerick man.

"The big thing was to get a win and prove that we're going forward as a squad.

"The support is here too. We could see the blue flags. It is crazy. It is brilliant."

The nature of the competition is they must now wait until April Fool's weekend for a quarter-final at The Aviva Stadium they would much rather play next week.

"The big thing is that we have a home quarter-final. That is no guarantee either."

For all of that, former Ulster scrum-half Ruan Pienaar was in a good position to evaluate Leinster.

"I think they all know their roles within the team and how they want to play.

"That's the key to them," reflected the South African.

"No matter who comes in, whether it's a youngster or a guy who's been there for six or seven seasons, they know what to do to get the job done.

"Playing with Ulster, I've seen the way that Leinster operate," he added.

"I think they stick to their structures no matter what the score is and they execute that well."

For all that, Henshaw is emerging as central plank to how Leinster play.

The combination of being able to play the wide passing game and turn defence into offence without the ball is uncommon.

He is beginning to rival Johnny Sexton as their most important piece.

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