Montpellier 16-16 Leinster
12th November @ Stade de la Mosson
Jonny Sexton secured a draw for Leinster with the last kick of the game as Leinster survived a tough test in the first match of their Heineken Cup defence against Montpellier. A disciplined and physical effort from the French side had seemingly given them all four points until they conceded a penalty in the last passage of play. To a deafening chorus of boos Sexton held his nerve and kicked the three pointer. Joe Schmidt will have been relieved to get two points from this match and move onto next Sunday’s clash with Glasgow at the RDS.
Montpellier were making their Heineken Cup debut here but were not over-awed to be facing the defending champions. Indeed Fabian Galthie’s side came out highly motivated and took the game to Leinster all afternoon.
Scrumhalf Benoit Paillaugue drew first blood for Montpellier when he was successful with a penalty given for hands in the ruck. Sexton equalized for Leinster minutes later with a 39m effort just to the right of the uprights. In the 16th minute, Sexton put his team in front after Mamuka Gorgodze was pinged for not rolling away.
Leinster were doing well at managing Gorgodze’s surges on the ball. He was met by at least two tacklers every time he got his hands on the ball. Montpellier were similarly dealing well with Leinster’s wrecking ball, Sean O’Brien, taking inspiration from Wales’ example in the World Cup and cutting him down with low tackles. Trinh-Duc at outhalf was threatening every time he had the ball, carrying with pace to the gain-line. Sexton showed he too could threaten after soft hands from Cullen and Heaslip manufactured a break for their outhalf. Sexton tried a cross-kick on the run and the move came to nothing.
Both sides were showing great attacking qualities and the next few minutes were heart-stopping. Luke Fitzgerald made a scorching break into Montpellier’s 22. Leinster spread the ball across to Isa Nacewa whose attempted grubber was blocked by the feet of Argentine fullback Lucas Amorosino. After hacking the ball downfield, Amorosino won the chase and popped off the deck to France international Fulgence Ouedraogo. The powerful blind-side had a clear run to the line for the game’s first try. Paillaugue added the conversion from under the posts, 10-6 to the home side.
The diminutive scrumhalf added another penalty soon after from distance. Both sides continued to look for tries. Leinster enjoyed good field position, attacking inside the Montpellier half but the defensive effort of Galthie’s side was fantastic. Throughout the course of the match they were patient enough that they gave away few penalties but also aggressive in recognizing the opportunity to turn over possession. Ouedraogo and replacement Remy Martin excelled in this regard.
The opening fifteen minutes of the second half saw the physicality of both sides stepping up even further. Gorgodze started to gain some yards carrying as Montpellier continued to repel O’Brien and the other Leinster ball carriers. The sides were turning each other over frequently in a real breakdown battle. Gorgodze steamrolled through O’Brien’s tackle as Leinster conceded a penalty and with Paillaugue replaced by Tomas Martin, Trinh-Duc took over the place kicking duties, extending the lead to 16-6.
Leinster made several replacements coming into the last quarter. Shane Jennings, Eoin Reddan and Sean Cronin all made an impact and helped Schmidt’s men to recover the deficit. Cronin showed his dynamism on the ball soon after coming on when he took an inside pass from McFadden and burst through the defensive line. The passage broke down through a forced pass but signaled a slight shift in momentum.
Leinster had raised the tempo and were now getting on the front foot with clean rucks and quick service from Reddan. Toner showed soft hands to offload to O’Brien and the blindside finally rumbled through contact. Quick ball was spread to Cronin who bounced up from Gorgodze’s tackle and dived over for the try. Sexton converted and Leinster were back in contention, 16-13.
Leinster came straight back into the Montpellier half, searching for the winning try. Montpellier’s defence held firm, first from a maul which saw several of the Leinster backs joining the shove. Then, from a scrum five metres out on the left with only a minute left, D’Arcy knocked on. Montpellier cleared the ball and it seemed that Leinster had run out of time.
But with the seconds ticking down, Leinster came back into the Montpellier half and finally the French side’s patient defence let them down. A needless penalty for hands in the ruck gave Sexton the chance to salvage the draw for Leinster.
Photo courtesy: MD+D