The French team came to Dublin hoping to send a signal out to the rest of Europe after a summer in which they signed Ruan Pienaar, Louis Picamoles and Aaron Cruden – the Champions Cup title firmly in their crosshairs.
Cruden wasn’t on show after hurting his thigh on Thursday, but Leinster were without a host of first team stars and turned up and sent out a message of their own.
There was no Johnny Sexton, Jamie Heaslip, Seán O’Brien or Rob Kearney – all Lions – but Leinster have no shortage of cubs able to roar.
Robbie Henshaw praised the ability of their lesser lights to shine on the big stage when asked, but the Lion made his own impact in a game where impacts were coming thick and fast.
One particular moment stands out, just before the hour mark, when he was bundled over by Nemani Nadolo, Montpellier’s giant Fijian wing. The former Connacht centre was red faced but bounced right back to not only down the 21-stone behemoth, but also then steal the ball from Ruan Pienaar. Cue a standing ovation from the relatively tame RDS crowd.
“I just knew I got it all wrong and I was gone, falling backwards, so I just kind of smirked when I realised the power of the man,” Henshaw said, a nod to the smile he wore as he fell.
“We practice our speed getting back to our feet in training, coming back through the ruck and being legal.
“So I just got back to my feet and I knew we were under the pump at that stage, I just saw Pienaar picking the ball up with no one there to cover him in the ruck. I knew I was within my rights to go through the ruck and strip him of the ball.
“It was a big moment, but I thought at the time I needed to do something after slipping off Nadolo.
“It didn’t hurt really but it’s a bit embarrassing when you get thrown like a rag-doll around the place. He’s a two-man job.” Henshaw’s ankle tap got the job done on that occasion – Nadolo did score two tries before and after – and he appreciated the crowd reaction. “There are big moments in games when the crowd gets behind you, you hear that roar and the team gets behind you, your team-mates celebrate. We call them ‘the little victories’,” he said.
“That’s a big lift for our team, maybe when the opposition see that it could be a little gain on them as well, it helps.” Henshaw says Leinster must improve their defence for next week’s trip to Glasgow – including himself in that category after he offered up a few soft shoulders, in the first half in particular.
But Leo Cullen will be pleased with how his side battled to the end, with Montpellier fighting hard for a draw, and perhaps there’s something to be said for preferring a home built team to one assembled with bags of cash.
“Potentially, yeah, I know it can take a while for new faces to knit when they come into new set-ups, for teams to knit when they come together for the first season,” Henshaw said. “We just fight for each other and fight for everything.”
Montpellier were without Aaron Cruden, the All Black outhalf, but Leinster’s victory came without Sexton, Fardy, O’Brien, Heaslip and Kearney, illustrating once more the depth of the province’s squad.
“Guys are there and ready to go,” Henshaw said. “We just have class from 1-15, the squad is exceptional and we’re always looking to get better as a team. That goes down to our coaching as well, the coaching is exceptional in the set-up and we just all work hard for everything we get, during the week we work hard and that translates onto the pitch.”
Tries: Carbery, van der Flier, Henshaw, Daly. Cons: Nacewa, Byrne.
Nadolo, Nadolo. Cons: Pienaar (2), Pens: Pienaar.
Carbery; Byrne, Henshaw, Nacewa (Reid, 35), Daly (McFadden, 80); Byrne, McGrath (Gibson-Park, 64); Conan (van der Flier, 74), Van der Flier (Murphy, 64), Ruddock; Ryan (Molony, 64), Toner; Furlong (Bent, 64), Tracy (Cronin, 47), J.McGrath (Healy, 47).
Mogg (Michel, 52); Fall (Fall, 64), Tomane, Steyn, Nadolo; Darmon (Paillaugue, 56), Pienaar; Picamoles (c), Camara (Liebenberg), Galletier; Van Rensburg (Delannoy, 38), J. Du Plessis; Guillamon (Kubriashvili, 52), B. Du Plessis (Ruffenach, 78), Nariashvili.