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Irish Fighting Spirit in full view
The last pool game of this seasons European campaign and the opposition Leinster, triple winners of the competition over the years and always a formidable opponent. Unbeaten so far in the pool games and they already have a guaranteed ¼ final home game whatever the result today.
Montpellier fielded a strong team despite the infirmary list still very heavy, but good to see the return of Antoine Guillamon and Ruan Pienaar, after their long lay offs through injury. A reasonable crowd of 11,000 on a cold and nearly dry day, with plenty of wind was the setting for this 14.00 kkick-off game, probably more favourable for the visitors than Montpellier. The Leinster supporters were there in mass and great to see how some clubs are followed whatever the situation, and Leinster have always had an excellent following at home and away, even if the trips are costly, probably the subtle difference between supporters and spectators.
The match got under way under the direction of Luke Pearce and the first 20mins was all Leinster, Montpellier hardly had their hands on the ball and had to do all the defending, but anyone could see it was only a matter of time before the first Leinster score. Ross Byrne was the scorer he went over after some excellent work from his team who moved he ball from defence to attack; giving them the lead after only 5mins the conversion was missed. Another penalty by the very same Byrne drove the lead to 0-8, it was all Irish Fighting Spirit that the crowd experienced, Montpellier had no ball and some last ditch tackling saved what could have been a very heavy score come half time.
A ray of light in the 24min : Montpellier decide to kick to touch from the penalty and with the line out won Bismark Du Plessis gathered at the back of the maul and Montpellier drove over the try line for their first score of the game Aaron Cruden added the extras and Montpellier were back in the game 7-8. Just before half time Montpellier got another line out 5mts out and a training ground combination saw Louis Picamoles give the perfect over arm pass to Yacouba Camara and over he went. Again Aaron Cruden added the extras and at half time the score 14-8 to the hosts.
The second halves just recently has not worked well in Montpellier’s favour and this one followed suit, the relapse was in Leinster’s favour and of course they took advantage of it, 6mins gone and Robbie Henshaw showed everyone his class and went over in the corner, Byrne missed the conversion but Leinster were just one point behind 14-13, another Byrne penalty and Leinster got their noses in front 14-16 and looked a very good team to boot doing all the attacking.
Penalty touch for Leinster just short of the Montpellier try line and Leinster gave the hosts some of their own medicine with a well formed maul and Sean Cronin did the rest as the forwards trundled over the line for their 3rd.try of the game, again Byrne added the extras and Leinster had a lead of 14-23. Leinster had their tails up and wanted that bonus point try, they tried their very best but somehow Montpellier with some desperate tackling kept them out till the end and all you could hear was the noise and support coming from only several hundred Leinster supports, the home support had been silenced. When the ref blew for the finish it was Leinster who leapt for joy with a well fought 14-23 victory and Montpellier were out of this seasons European Cup campaign.
This is not the worst thing that could happen to Montpellier they return to the TOP 14 next Sunday with a very tough away game at Clermont, very difficult but certainly not impossible. Still holding the No. 1 spot in the Championship, the boys now have only one thing on their minds, that end of season Bouclier de Brennus. There is still a long way to go with plenty of hard matches to be won, BUT…. coach Vern Cotter has the experience of winning this coveted trophy which everyone at the club is wishing and praying for. We had a taste of it in the 2010/11 season and failed at the final hurdle. This time we have the squad, and the coaches, to go that one step further and bring the Bouclier back to Montpellier, but it will take hard work, long hours and a mentality of solid steel to overcome all the traps and banana skins for the rest of the season.
The players must now have a concentration of incredible limits to make this goal come true !