Leinster impress in European opener as pack set the tone early in Montpellier

Five-try victory for Irish province sees Dan Leavy secure the bonus point in France

Montpellier 14 Leinster 35

Progress, by any measurement, is a victory in France when Johnny Sexton pulls up during the warm-up.

Hell hath no fury like Leinster players spurned by the Ireland coach. Rhys Ruddock has been the dominant force in blue this season and the currently exiled Irish blindside led the 2018 European champions to a famous victory at the GGL Stadium on Saturday evening.

In the end, the greatest collection of internationals to be named on a provincial bench were barely needed (There is a clear argument that the Leinster subs weakened both scrum and lineout).


At least Dan Leavy returned to the Champions Cup with a late try that had everyone grinning from ear to ear.

Pre-match concerns about this starting pack were allayed in the opening exchanges with Devin Toner in particular matching South African heavyweights, Paul Willemse and Nico van Rensburg, in contact.

Josh van der Flier slid over in the right corner for the first score after four minutes. Remarkably, the try's origin came from the Leinster frontrow where Michael Bent got the twist on Gregory Fichten despite the French scrum boasting 27 extra kilograms. English referee Karl Dickson signalled a penalty advantage but Luke McGrath saw the space to scamper into Montpellier's 22. Ruddock made some unforgiving hard yards before the space opened out wide.

Ross Byrne missed the conversion but tacked on three points in the 11th minute.

Leinster never looked back.

Benoit Paillaugue made it 8-3 when James Tracy was penalised for not releasing in the lottery system also known as the breakdown.

Ruddock was also instrumental in Ciarán Frawley's try but this time the score came from a foothold Hugo Keenan established in Montpellier's 22 after the winger's textbook kick chase and ankle tackle on Gabriel N'gandebe.

Byrne – who was understudied by younger brother Harry due to Sexton’s late withdrawal – missed the touchline conversion but he would more than atone before the break.

A clean strike by Paillaugue made it 13-6 despite Ruddock hotly contesting Dickson's decision. Not to worry, Byrne ensured Leinster's dominance was reflected on the scoreboard with one of his trademark cross field kicks being gathered by Dave Kearney before the outhalf rediscovered his range to make it 20-6.

The Leinster pack's collective muscling-up in the first half cannot be over stated. Scott Fardy refused to be overshadowed by Toner when stealing Guilhem Guirado's lineout throw five metres from his try line.

The combined age of Leinster's engine room is 70. Ryan Baird and James Ryan – combined age 45 – may be the future but the physical standards required for these European battles was set by their mentors.

Paillaugue made it three from three off the tee after Dickson made another odd call at the breakdown – this time Caelan Doris was punished for doing precisely what the second defender is supposed to do over the tackled player.

Doris and his flankers Van der Flier and Ruddock were superb but the roar of the night was saved for Leavy, who was mobbed by his team-mates when squeezing over for the bonus-point try.

It has been a long road back from horrific injury for the flanker. Now all Leavy has to do is command a starting slot.

SCORING SEQUENCE – 4 mins: J van der Flier try, 0-5; 10: R Byrne pen, 0-8; 20: B Paillaugue pen, 3-8; 25: C Frawley try, 3-13; 32: B Paillaugue pen, 6-13; 35: D Kearney try, 6-18; R Byrne con, 6-20. Half-time. 42: B Paillaugue pen 9-20; 64: H Byrne pen, 9-23; 69: D Leavy try, 9-28; 77: G N'gandebe try, 14-28; 79: J O'Brien try, 14-33; H Byrne con 14-35.

MONTPELLIER: V Rattez; G N'gandebe, Y Reilhac, A Vincent (capt), V Martin; A Lozowski, B Paillaugue; G Fichten, G Guirado, M Haouas; B Chalureau, P Willemse; NJ van Rensburg, Y Camara, J du Plessis.

Replacements: B du Plessis for G Guirado (47 mins), T Lamositele for M Haouas (49 mins), L Picamoles for B Chalureau (57 mins), L Foursans for A Lozowski (63 mins), E Forletta for G Fichten (65 mins), P Vallée for V Martin (71 mins), C Timu for Y Camara (73 mins), A Bevia for V Rattez (78 mins).

LEINSTER: J O'Brien; H Keenan, R Henshaw, C Frawley, D Kearney; R Byrne, L McGrath; P Dooley, J Tracy, M Bent; D Toner, S Fardy; R Ruddock (capt), J van der Flier, C Doris.

Replacements: R Kelleher, C Healy, A Porter for P Dooley, J Tracy, M Bent (all 48 mins), J Ryan for S Fardy (52 mins), D Leavy for C Doris (59 mins), H Byrne for R Byrne (61 mins), J Gibson-Park for L McGrath, R Baird for D Toner (both 70 mins).

Referee: K Dickson (England).