Leinster clinched a home draw in the Heineken Cup quarter-finals courtesy of a three-try triumph over Montpellier at the RDS… Joe Schmidt post-match reaction…
In blustery conditions, Sean O’Brien’s ninth-minute try settled any early nerves and man-of-the-match Rob Kearney used his speed and strength to nab his fourth try of the pool stages.
Montpellier had no points to show for a long spell in the home 22, trailing 20-0 at the break with Fergus McFadden booting the rest of Leinster’s points.
Joe Schmidt’s men went further ahead with a try from Cian Healy and in a scrappy final half hour, Martin Bustos Moyano kicked a penalty for the visitors.
The result completed an unbeaten run through the six rounds for the Pool 3 winners, who are guaranteed to be one of the top seeds in the knockout stages.
Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt said afterwards: “A couple of nice plays came off for us to get a couple of tries and build a seventeen-point lead and I thought there was really good character to defend off our line the way we did.
“There was a mix of the flashy stuff and the real ‘roll your sleeves up’ stuff. Those two things gave us the half-time advantage and it was fantastic to score (the try) after half-time.
“It’s a little bit hard, even more this year because there has been three months consecutive, but it’s nice to have a bit of momentum, put a few good results together even if they haven’t all been great performances.
“We just have to bide our time, watch a bit of Six Nations and hope guys come out of that fully fit.”
Leinster were forced into a late change with Schmidt not willing to risk Jonathan Sexton, who suffered a knock to his left ankle in the win over Glasgow Warriors.
Ian Madigan came in for his first Heineken Cup start, distributing well early on as the wind-backed hosts enjoyed the early possession.
Purposeful runs from front rowers Richardt Strauss and Healy pinpointed the chinks in Montpellier’s defence, and soon after a short burst from O’Brien, aided by Damian Browne, saw him muscle over from close range.
McFadden added the conversion and a penalty to take the province into double figures, before Kearney sliced through off first phase ball.
From a midfield scrum, Isaac Boss and Gordon D’Arcy combined to send the full-back through the defensive line and although Paul Bosch hauled him down, Kearney stretched out his left arm to get the touchdown.
McFadden made it a seven-pointer but good ball retention from the visitors’ bulky forwards got them close to a first try, big Mamuka Gorgodze being thwarted by Leo Cullen and O’Brien.
Leinster held them up again through a series of five-metre scrums and assaults on their line, albeit with lock Browne being sin-binned for side entry at a ruck.
It was a punishing period for the home forwards but the French outfit just could not break them down, with a steal from tournament debutant Jamie Hagan lifting the siege.
Montpellier captain Fulgence Ouedraogo infringed at a central ruck as Leinster finished the first half back in the visitors’ half. McFadden rifled over the resulting penalty.
A sparkling run from Isa Nacewa helped Leinster lay down an early marker in the second half.
D’Arcy went close to scoring in the right corner before Healy powered over on a muscular drive with support from Rhys Ruddock and replacement Mike Ross.
Kearney was inches away from scoring his second try, his attempt from a quick tap being snuffed out by the well-placed Alex Tulou.
Substitutions diluted the intensity slightly until a final spurt from both sides saw Montpellier get off the mark and Leinster fail to muster a bonus point score, with McFadden lacking the support required to finish off the best of the chances.
LEINSTER SCORERS: S. O’Brien (1 try), R. Kearney (1 try), C. Healy (1 try), F. McFadden (2 conversions and 2 penalties)
MONTPELLIER SCORERS: M. Bustos Moyano (1 penalty)
15: Rob Kearney (Fionn Carr, 64)
14: Fergus McFadden
13: Eoin O’Malley
12: Gordon D’Arcy
11: Isa Nacewa
10: Ian Madigan
9: Isaac Boss (Eoin Reddan, 57)
1: Cian Healy (Heinke van der Merwe, 48)
2: Richardt Strauss (Sean Cronin, 57)
3: Jamie Hagan (Mike Ross, half-time)
4: Leo Cullen CAPTAIN (Devin Toner, 56)
5: Damian Browne
6: Rhys Ruddock
7: Sean O’Brien (Shane Jennings, 56)
8: Jamie Heaslip
REPLACEMENT NOT USED: David Kearney.
MONTPELLIER: J-B Peyras-Loustalet; T Nagusa, Y Audrin, P Bosch, M Bustos Moyano; F Trinh-Duc, J Tomas; N Leleimalefaga, A Creevy, G Jgenti, D Hancke, J Tuineau, F Ouedraogo CAPTAIN, M Gorgodze, A Tulou.
REPLACEMENTS: R van Vuuren, J Figallo, M Bustos, M Demarco, V Bost, B Paillaugue, S Fernandez, T Combezou.
REFEREE: Neil Paterson (SRU), ASSISTANT REFEREES: Tim Wigglesworth, Robin Goodliffe (both RFU), 4th OFFICIAL: Ken Henley-Willis (IRFU), 5th OFFICIAL: Gary Glennon (IRFU), TMO: David Grashoff (RFU).