Monday 18 February 2019

Nacewa fit for Leinster who will make do without O'Brien

Montpellier coach Cotter out to finally make his mark in the Cup

Leinster’s Seán O’Brien will miss tomorrow Champions Cup match against Montpellier at the RDS.
Leinster’s Seán O’Brien will miss tomorrow Champions Cup match against Montpellier at the RDS.

At the beginning of the week, Leinster were looking at losing their captain Isa Nacewa and their British & Irish Lions test flanker Sean O'Brien.

Nacewa had made it back running from his calf strain last week.

This was a long way from proving to coach Leo Cullen his body would stand up to the rigours of training this week.

Apparently, the steel mind of the 35 year-old has found co-operation from his limbs to hit his markers as convincingly as he will hit allcomers from Montpellier.

It is just as well as the unavailability of Garry Ringrose to this point has left Leinster light on options through the middle, even though Rory O'Loughlin has stepped up admirably.

Robbie Henshaw was understandably rusty in his comeback game at the Aviva Stadium and should come on a tonne.

It looks like Ireland international O'Brien has not been able to shake off the ramifications from a stamp to his calf against Edinburgh last Friday week.

Thankfully, Leinster are well armed in the back row area with Josh van der Flier, many people's idea of the Man of the Match against Munster, continuing to progress.

Natural leader Rhys Ruddock is another hitting his stride as Jordi Murphy makes his case for big game time.

Jack Conan is making the number eight shirt his own in the ongoing absence of Jamie Heaslip.

The latest version of rugby's 'galacticos' have been bought and paid for by Syrian-born French billionaire businessman Mohed Altrad.

The tumultuous story goes that the 69 year-old was born in the Syrian desert, the same day his mother died.

At the age of four, his Bedouin - these are nomadic Arab people - father gave Altrad away to his grandparents.

The child destined to be a shepherd of the desert grew into an employer of 7,000 people as his company became the world-leading maker of cement-mixers and Europe's largest maker of scaffolding and wheelbarrows under the banner of Groupe Altrad.

The 69-year-old fortune is estimated to be worth in the region of 1.5billion euros.

Leinster coach Cullen's evaluation of what makes a sustainable model for professional rugby simply doesn't apply to Montpellier.

The club only came into existence in 1986 as a consequence of the amalgamation of two clubs, Stade Montpelliérain and MUC Rugby.

Current flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo became Montpellier's Herault Rugby, to give its' full name, first French international as recently as 2007.

They have never won the French Top-14 never mind made a mark in the Champions Cup.

In fact, they have only competed in the premier European competition five times, in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017, making it as far as the quarter-final just once in 2013 when they were mown down 36-14 by Clermont-Auvergne, then coached by their new coach Vern Cotter, a man still unable to claim to be champion in Europe.

This all sounds so encouraging for Leinster as this is not the pedigree of a champion team.

For years, they have spent big money for small returns without going all in.

Now, highly respected Cotter has taken forwards coach Nathan Hines and backs coach Alex King to Montpellier to bring about a seismic shift in their culture.

They have the means to do so with 19 overseas players included in their squad of 41 for Europe.

Their band of diverse brothers contains ten South Africans, three from Georgia, two from Fiji, Wallabies Jesse Mogg and Joe Tomane and All Black Aaron Cruden.

In addition, there are seven French internationals, spearheaded by spectacular loose forwards in Louis Picamoles, Yacouba Camara and Ouedraogo.

As long as Cotter can harness his players to apply the same interest in Europe as they do for the Top-14, where they are high-flying in second behind Lyon, they can be a dark horse to come from nowhere, at least in terms of their European profile.

Therefore, there is added significance to tomorrow's tussle at The RDS for Leinster and the 18 clubs waiting to see how Montpellier go about their business.

This is why Leinster will be so relieved their captain Nacewa looks like he has willed himself to overcome his calf strain.

Unfortunately, O'Brien has not been able to do the same.

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