Leinster, the defending champions, salvaged a dramatic draw in a thrilling opener to Pool Three of the Heineken Cup.
The Montpellier captain, Fulgence Ouedraogo, finished off a breakaway try midway through the first half at the Stade de la Mosson and another France player, François Trinh-Duc, extended their lead early in the second half. But in the final quarter Leinster managed to wear Sexton salvages draw for Leinster down their opponents and the replacement hooker Sean Cronin barrelled over in the right corner with 14minutes left. The conversion, from Jonathan Sexton (pictured right) looked like securing a losing bonus point but the referee, Dave Pearson, awarded ta penalty and Sexton held his nerve in a cacophony of boos.
Leinster were missing the injured Brian O’Driscoll, Cian Healy and ShaneHorgan, with Heinke van der Merwe, Fergus McFadden and Rob Kearney the men to replace them.
Damian Browne partnered the captain, Leo Cullen, in the second rowand Isaac Boss was preferred to Eoin Reddan at scrum-half.
Montpellier, with just two wins from nine Top 14 fixtures this season, said during the week that they were hoping to use this match to kick start their season. They were able to recall Ouedraogo and Trinh-Duc for the first time since the World Cup and having moved the game to the city’s football stadium, they were keen to make an early impression.
The near-capacity crowd were in full voice when Benoît Paillaugue kicked last year’s Top 14 finalists into the lead after four minutes. Sexton replied for Leinster and kicked a second penalty from distance after 16 minutes. It was a hugely physical match and Montpellier looked threatening. Leinster were in a promising position when the game turned, after 23 minutes. With men out wide, Isa Nacewa tried a grubber kick through to the right corner, only for the ball to be blocked by Montpellier’s Argentinian full-back, Lucas Amorosino.
The chase was on for the Leinster line then, with Fergus McFadden looking the favourite to win it. But when he did not manage to pick up the loose ball, Amorosino found Ouedraogo, who had the freedom of the Leinster 22 and dived home under the posts.
Paillaugue converted and when he kicked a long-range penalty, Montpellier suddenly found themselves 13-6 in front with half-time approaching.
McFadden was held up five metres short as Leinster sought a quick response but only a last-ditch Luke Fitzgerald tackle prevented Geoffrey Doumayrou getting another try at the other end.
The second half brought more intense, physical stuff and both No 7s, Sean O’Brien and the huge Georgian Mamuka Gorgodze, came in for special treatment from the defences.
Shane Jennings and Reddan replaced Kevin McLaughlin and Boss early in the second half as Leinster showed renewed determination. But the home side stretched their lead to 16-6 through Trinh-Duc. Leinster may have thought it was not going to be their day when Sexton then missed a penalty on the 22.
However, Joe Schmidt’s men are not the European champions for nothing and a couple of minutes later, Cronin finished off a sweeping move with great pace and power. Sexton was successful with an extremely tricky conversion, meaning that Leinster trailed 16-13.
The momentum was firmly with the champions now and they continued to batter the Montpellier defence.
They were rewarded at the death when Sexton kicked his third penalty to earn a hard-earned draw.
Montpellier: L Amorosino; T Nagusua, G Doumayrou, S Fernandez, Y Audrin; F Trinh-Duc, B Paillaugue (J Tomas, 51); N Leleimalefaga (M Nariashvili, 77), A Creevy (E van Vuuren, 62), M Bustos (G Jgenti, 61), M De Marco, T Privat (D Hancke, 59), F Ouedraogo (capt), M Matadigo (R Martin, 40), MGorgodze.
Leinster: R Kearney; I Nacewa, F McFadden, G D’Arcy, L Fitzgerald; J Sexton, I Boss (E Reddan, 50); H van der Merwe, R Strauss (D Cronin, 56), M Ross (N White, 62), L Cullen (capt), D Browne (D Toner, 63), K McLaughlin (S Jennings, 47), J Heaslip, S O’Brien.
Referee: D Pearson (England).
Pens: Paillaugue 2, Trinh-Duc
Pens: Sexton 3