Leinster are the second Irish side aiming to secure victory on the opening weekend of the Champions Cup after Ulster got the ball rolling last night with a 19-9 victory over last season’s Premiership finalists, Wasps, at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast.
It’s French opposition for Leinster this time, however, as the welcome a powerful Montpellier outfit to the RDS for Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off.
Leinster are going into this game on the back of a morale-boosting win against southern rivals Munster last weekend but unfortunately for Leo Cullen’s side, they are missing some big players with likes of Jonathan Sexton and Sean O’Brien both absent from today’s matchday 23.
— Leinster Rugby (@leinsterrugby) October 13, 2017
Montpellier will also be without new signing Aaron Cruden who misses the game with a thigh injury so supporters will have to wait until the return fixture to see Sexton and Cruden going toe to toe against one another.
There are a few tasty head to head battles which could prove difficult for Leinster, most notably Luke McGrath against Ruan Pienaar, Louis Picamoles against Jack Conan and Nemani Nadolo against Adam Byrne.
Although Montpellier may have the advantage in this regard, on paper at least, former Leinster and Ireland international, Kevin McLaughlin, is confident that Leinster can secure victory by deploying a fast-paced, high-tempo game against the Top 14 giants.
“I think Leinster will go well against Montpellier, I think they’re going to play an unbelievably high-tempo game. I know that’s how Stuart Lancaster and Leo Cullen think about the game anyway. The guys will go in and keep the ball moving, make Montpellier feel uncomfortable, they’ll want to play the game at this pace,” McLaughlin told Pundit Arena this week.
“I still think that Leinster will play at a pace that particularly the French forwards, they’re probably the biggest pack in the competition, just won’t be accustomed to so far this season.”
McLaughlin believes that the weather could also favour Leinster, especially if dry conditions are present. The forecast for the match is an uncharacteristic balmy 19°C and little rain so Leo Cullen’s side could have the perfect opportunity to play a running game and take advantage of the French side’s inferior fitness levels.
“They have world class right across their 23 but what I would argue is that they [Montpellier] would not have played at this pace so far this season, no matter how good the players are, they won’t necessarily be conditioned to this type of game. Particularly if it’s a dry track on Saturday. At 1 o’clock on a Saturday, Leinster are going to absolutely rip out of the blocks, they’re going to throw the ball around, Luke McGrath will do a couple of quick taps or and they’ll kick to the corner.”
McLaughlin, of course, has been in this situation many times before for the eastern province, welcoming French opposition to Dublin and ultimately, the thinking process for the Leinster players will be to outwork their opponents, tire them out and exploit the space which will eventually be created.
“They’ll just go at them and I’ve been part of games like this when your playing against a French team and you know they’re going to be big and strong but you’re always thinking in your head that we can outwork these guys. We can outwork them up front, we can make them feel really uncomfortable, we might not necessarily have all the players they have or the same bench and experience but we have something different, we have pace, we have an intensity that we’re going to bring to the game that they can’t cope with.”
McLaughlin also cites Montpellier’s recent loss to Stade Francais as an example of how French sides generally don’t travel well, something which again, could be in the home side’s favour this afternoon.
“That is the way you win your home games. There’s another thing that French teams traditionally don’t travel well but they lost 31-20 to Stade Francais last weekend but on paper, they’re a better team than Stade Francais but they lost. So that gives me some confidence that Leinster can go out and do a job at the weekend.”
Leinster’s Champions Cup clash with Montpellier kicks off at 13:00 on Saturday afternoon.
‘Kevin McLaughlin, VP Operations, EMEA at Kitman Labs was speaking ahead of the One-Zero conference which takes place on the 17th October 2017. For more information go to www.one-zero.com.’
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