Leinster’s comprehensive 57-3 win over Montpellier on Friday night secured Leo Cullen’s side top spot in Pool 4 and automatic qualification to the knockout stages after a disappointing 2015/16 campaign.
First-half tries to Isa Nacewa, Jack Conan and Adam Byrne set up a healthy 24-3 lead at halftime before further tries from Conan, Luke McGrath, Cian Healy and Garry Ringrose set up a comfortable 57-3 victory for the three-time champions.
Leinster were comfortable victors at the RDS but here are five quick conclusions from Friday’s game.
1. Leinster Are Legitimate Contenders
Leinster were already legitimate contenders heading into this one but Friday’s performance put an exclamation point on a comprehensive drubbing of Montpellier.
With depth, experience, a squad brimming with youth, exuberance and talent, Leinster look like serious contenders and are showing no signs of slowing up. Leinster are very well-drilled, and are playing with a level of ruthless execution that will worry teams in the quarter-finals. Leinster are a tough draw for any team in the knockout stage, especially if they’re able to secure a home quarter-final.
2. Jack Conan Had The Best Game Of His Career
Jack Conan was absolutely superb for Leinster in a man of the match display that saw the Bray native snare a hat-trick and a try assist in a superb display at blindside flanker.
Conan was immense and was everywhere for Leinster. He tackled well, consistently got over the gainline and broke the line, and showed great hands and instinct in a really polished performance from the 24-year-old.
The presence of Sean O’Brien, Josh van der Flier and Jamie Heaslip will make it difficult for Conan to assert himself as a mainstay within the Leinster pack, but nevertheless, if he can replicate Friday’s performances going forward he’ll be hard to leave out.
3. Montpellier Gave Up
It’s a worrying theme within European competition that French teams just seem to concede defeat during the middle of games they’re still actively playing in. Playing for pride doesn’t really seem to resonate with some French teams and it definitely didn’t register with Montpellier on Friday who collapsed in the second-half as Leinster coasted to a comfortable win.
Frans Steyn’s first-half red card certainly didn’t help their cause, and a brief rally to start the second-half gave some sort of hope that there would be a competitive game, but those hopes were quickly dashed when Conan bagged his second try as Montpellier faded quickly and went down without any real fight.
4. Frans Steyn Was Needlessly Reckless
There’s a bit of division with Steyn’s red card. Match commentator Shane Horgan described Steyn’s tackle as “a really dirty tackle” while the online reaction has been very mixed as to whether it was even a red.
Regardless of personal persuasion on referee JP Doyle’s decision, Steyn’s tackle was reckless and unnecessary. Leinster fly-half Johnny Sexton had already passed the ball onto teammate Jack McGrath before Steyn’s challenge while Leinster were far from threatening at the time of the pass.
Leinster were leading 14-3 at the time of Steyn’s dismissal and while the loss of Steyn was no excuse for a 57-3 drubbing, it did make proceedings difficult for Montpellier and ultimately was a major factor in the visitors rapid demise in Dublin.
5. Adam Byrne Will Be Hard To Displace From The Starting XV
After several injury ravaged seasons, Adam Byrne has enjoyed a brilliant couple of months and has really cemented himself as Leinster’s first-choice winger.
Playing behind Luke Fitzgerald, Dave Kearney, Isa Nacewa and Zane Kirchner over the last few seasons, opportunities have been few and far between for Byrne who scored Leinster’s third try in a eight try mauling on Friday.
Byrne’s combination of size, speed and power has served him well over the last three months, and at this rate, he’ll be very hard to displace if he can maintain his current form.