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Montpellier Herault vs Leinster Rugby
Heineken Champions Cup Round 1
Altrad Stadium, Montpellier

Saturday, 12th December 2020, 17:30 (Irish Time)

TV: Live on BT Sports

You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!

The Heineken Cup was a beautiful tournament back in the day!

Remember the excitement when the pools were announced in the summer? Trying to get away trips booked before the airlines and hotels hiked up the prices. Working out the form of the opponents in the pool to see what the chances were. The massive crowds, the bad days and then the great days.

But ever since the English and French clubs staged a coup to take control of it, it's been steadily going downhill. It's lost a lot of it's lustre and when Exeter won the trophy last October it didn't really raise that much interest outside the hardcore rugby audience. French and English clubs, even those who've been successful recently, still have a vested interest in wrecking the tournament to get more coverage of the depressing grind that is the Top14 and the Premiership. And this season they've taken a wrecking ball to it.

Leinster take on Montpellier away this week and then Northampton at home next week. Two teams Leinster are a bit sick of to be frank after sharing pools on more than one occasion in recent seasons. Then Leinster play the same two teams in January, Montpellier in Dublin and the Saints in Northampton.

So it's a three team pool and they each play each other home and away?

Eh. No. Montpellier and Northampton won't play each other at all. Instead Northampton will play Bordeaux Begles twice and Montpellier play Wasps twice.

So wait... there's five teams in the pool?

Eh no, there's twelve teams in the pool.


Yeah twelve. Two pools each with twelve teams in it.

How can that be a pool though if everyone doesn't play each other?

Beats me, they play just four games each and then the top four teams in each 12 team pool go through to the two legged quarter-finals.

Two-legged quarter-finals?

Yep, one of the most unloved things about soccer has been imported so prepare for a lot of one-sided games followed by dead rubbers the following week.

But wait, wait, this is all just for one season because of Covid-19, right? Surely we can put up with this for one season with everything that's going on in the world?

Actually no, the only thing that's temporary is the 24 teams. It will go back to 20 teams next season but the format of having only four pool games and two legged quarter-finals is likely to remain. These changes were actually proposed by the English teams long before anyone ever heard of Covid. In many ways they've taken advantage of the pandemic to get their changes in.

So it's not a healthy outlook for the long term future of the tournament but there's rugby to be played so what can Leinster expect from Montpellier? Well Montpellier's form has been sketchy but they will have a massive physical pack. And in a week where the stark personal costs of professional rugby has been laid bare, Leinster limp over to France with half the squad injured and many others coming straight off four weeks of international rugby. So once again player welfare is really just a meaningless hashtag for the Unions who lay out the schedules for these players.

At least most of the Irish internationals who were used the most over the last four weeks aren't asked to start this weekend. Ronan Kelleher, Cian Healy, Andrew Porter and James Ryan are named on the bench alongside skipper Jonathan Sexton. In the first fifteen Jimmy O'Brien makes a well deserved European debut at full back and Hugo Keenan returns to play on the right wing with Dave Kearney on the left. Ciaran Frawley makes his first European start at inside centre where he partners the returning Robbie Henshaw. Ross Byrne gets the nod over his brother Harry to start at out-half and he'll be looking to put a disappointing November behind him. Luke McGrath completes the backline.

In the pack the front row of Peter Dooley, James Tracy and Michael Bent remain the same from the last match against Cardiff but there's a new second row in Devin Toner and Scott Fardy. Skipper Rhys Ruddock moves to blindside to allow Caelan Doris, Ireland's best player in November, to resume at number eight. Josh van der Flier rounds out the team at openside.

Montpellier's season has been pretty poor so far but they did beat Clermont away last weekend which is no little feat. They've a massive pack with internationals like Guilhem Guirado, Mohamed Haouas, Paul Willemse and Yacouba Camara in the starting pack with plenty of monsters in reserve like Bismarck Du Plessis, Titi Lamositele, Louis Picamoles and Caleb Timu. They have some quality in the backs as well though with former Saracen Alex Lozowski at out-half and current internationals Vincent Rattez and skipper Arthur Vincent in the outside backs.

This will be Leinster's first European match since the horror show against Saracens in September. You can bet Montpellier will have watched that game too and will be looking to bully Leinster up front.

With the team they've named, Leinster might be doing well to escape with a losing bonus point.

Team Lineups

Montpellier Herault

Leinster Rugby
Teams Vincent Rattez 15 Jimmy O'Brien
Gabriel N'gandebe 14 Hugo Keenan
Yvan Reilhac 13 Robbie Henshaw
Arthur Vincent (C) 12 Ciaran Frawley
Vincent Martin 11 Dave Kearney
Alex Lozowski 10 Ross Byrne
Benoit Paillaugue 9 Luke McGrath

Gregory Fichten 1 Peter Dooley
Guilhem Guirado 2 James Tracy
Mohamed Haouas 3 Michael Bent
Bastien Chalureau 4 Devin Toner
Paul Willemse 5 Scott Fardy
Nico Janse van Rensburg 6 Rhys Ruddock (C)
Yacouba Camara 7 Josh van der Flier
Jacques Du Plessis 8 Caelan Doris

Replacements Bismarck Du Plessis 16 Ronan Kelleher
Enzo Forletta 17 Cian Healy
Titi Lamositele 18 Andrew Porter
Louis Picamoles 19 James Ryan
Caleb Timu 20 Ryan Baird
Louis Foursans 21 Jamison Gibson-Park
Paul Vallee 22 Johnny Sexton
Axel Bevi 23 Dan Leavy

Not Considered
due to Injury

Vakh Abdaladze,
Conor O'Brien,
Adam Byrne,
Tadhg Furlong,
Max Deegan,
Jordan Larmour,
Garry Ringrose,
Jack Conan,
Sean Cronin,
Tommy O'Brien,
Rory O'Loughlin,
Will Connors,
Ed Byrne,
James Lowe
Officials Referee: Karl Dickson (England),
Assistant referees: Tual Trainini (France), Cedric Marchat (France),
TMO: Eric Briquet-Campin (France)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2020-12-11