Montpellier v Leinster, Heineken Cup, November 12, 2011
Leinster set to launch title defence
November 11, 2011
Leinster will hope to lift the Heineken Cup again come May © PA Photos
Leinster will launch their bid to become only the second side in Heineken Cup history to win back-to-back titles with a tough away tie at Montpellier on Saturday.
The French side finished runners-up in last season's Top 14 - losing to Toulouse in the finale - and possess a wealth of international talent. The World Cup saw mammoth Georgian back-row Mamuka Gorgodze tearing up defences in the Pool stages of the tournament while French fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc and captain Fulgence Ouedraogo were part of France's unlikely run to the World Cup Final where they were beaten by the All Blacks.
But they face a Leinster side packed with international talent of their own and fresh from claiming their second Heineken Cup crown in three years - clinched courtesy of a dramatic 33-22 victory over Northampton back in May. In contrast, Montpellier's finest day in Europe was victory over Rovigo in the Plate competition in 2004.
Leinster are also currently flying high in the PRO12, level on points with Ospreys at the top of the table, but if they are to make it back-to-back titles then they will have to do it without inspirational centre Brian O'Driscoll following the news that the Ireland skipper will be out of action out for six months with a shoulder injury.
Montpellier - Player to Watch: Openside Mamuka Gorgodze won some rave reviews for Georgia at the Rugby World Cup - can he maintain that level of performance in Europe's premier club competition?
Montpellier - Team News: Fly-half François Trinh-Duc and blindside flanker Fulgence Ouedraogo are set for their first appearances since returning from international duty at the Rugby World Cup - the latter taking the captaincy of the side.
Leinster - Player to Watch: Flanker Sean O'Brien was one of the stars of last season's competition - can he pick up where he left off?
Leinster - Team News: In one of three changes to the pack that started last weekend's victory over Munster, Heinke van der Merwe starts in the front row after Cian Healy tweaked a muscle in training. Damian Browne comes into the second row while Kevin McLaughlin, a replacement in the Aviva Stadium last time out, joins fellow Ireland internationals Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien in the back row. The backline is unchanged while Shane Jennings is one of four Ireland internationals on the bench alongside Sean Cronin, Eoin Reddan and Devin Toner.
Key Battle: A ferocious back-row battle awaits with Leinster's triumvirate of Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip set to go head-to-head with Montpellier's Fulgence Ouedraogo, Mamuka Gorgodze and Masi Matadigo.
Trivia: Leinster's record win in the Heineken Cup came against Bourgoin back in 2004-05 when they despatched the French side 92-17
Stats: Stade Francais fly-half Felipe Contepomi is Leinster's record points scorer in the tournament with 348 though Johnny Sexton will have his sights set on overtaking that record and is currently poised on 237
"I am very impressed by the way they play the game. Playing against Leinster will give us the opportunity to learn if Montpellier is on the same level, close to the highest level or if we have a long way to go to reach the top."
"They've made a big thing of the first game against us and are looking to sell out Stade de le Mosson. I think that's a big thing for them. They've haven't started the French league well but they've been deprived of a number of quality players and that's been frustrating for them."
Prediction: Leinster to underline their status as a European heavyweight by handing their French rivals a lesson on their own patch.
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