Big spending French outfit Montpellier travel to Dublin to take on European royalty in Leinster as they look to legitimise their credentials.
Recruiting the likes of Ruan Pienaar, Aaron Cruden and Luois Picamoles has put Vern Cotter’s outfit firmly in the mix to lift this season’s Champions Cup trophy.
Five wins in their initial seven games has further increased the pre-season confidence around the Mohed Altrad backed side.
If they wanted to stamp their authority on pool 3 and in turn the competition itself, then heading to the Irish capital and leaving with four, or even five points is as big a statement they could make.
Can They Run Before They Walk?
Despite their star studded line-up, people are suggesting Montpellier haven’t gone through the necessary protocols. By that I mean experience a painful loss that fuels future success.
Just ask holder Saracens, they lost two semi-finals and a final in three consecutive years before they went on top climb the mountain they now sit proudly on top of.
The caveat do that proposed idea is whether Montpellier have managed to recruit that emotional intelligence necessary.
Vern Cotter experienced painstaking losses in both the last four and the final during his time at Clermont Auvergne which will stand him in good stead.
Cruden has two Super Rugby titles and two World Cup medals whilst Picamoles was succesful in two Top 14 finals and this competitions predecessor: the Heineken Cup back in 2010.
The team from the Herault will be under no illusions how difficult it will be to conquer Europe at their first real opportunity.
Can Money Simply Buy You The Cup?
Like the great Toulon side who won three consecutive European Cups between 2013-2015, Montpellier are aiming to win the competition with relatively little experience of knockout rugby.
Toulon did lose the Challenge Cup finals 12 months before they lifted Europe’s ultimate prize, but had only reached the last eight in Europe once before.
Much like Montpellier who reached the quarter final in 2013 before losing to Clermont Auvergne – then coached by Cotter.
Despite Toulon’s relatively amateur history in the competition they managed to learn on the job almost as they created their unprecedented dynasty.
The likes of Jonny Wilkinson, Matt Giteau and Bakkies Botha were engrained with the concept of winning. Montpellier may not quite have players of that calibrate, but even those in the talent pool just below are worthy of winning most competitions in the game.
Bismarck du Plessis, Francois Steyn, Cruden and co are aiming to emulate the success of that Toulon side and with the calibration of their squad you wouldn’t back against it.
Leinster Remain Worthy Adversaries
Whilst their wage bill may be worlds apart from their French opponents, the quality of their squad certainly isn’t.
Leo Cullen’s side made the last four 12 months ago after a memorable dismantling of English side Wasps at the Aviva Stadium and, if it weren’t for a slow start, could well have beaten Clermont Auvergne in Lyon.
Nevertheless Leinster live and learn and their squad, packed with both older statesman and exciting young blood, has the ability to once again challenge in the latter stages of the competition.
Johny Sexton will once again lead from the front and relish his contest with Cruden this weekend. In terms of their respective stature this is well and truly a game of men against boys – the trophy cabinets would back that up.
Leinster’s challenge is to shush the hype currently surrounding this Montpellier side and remind them that they have several more steps to take before they can contemplate climbing the ladder.
The Irish side themselves have certain questions to answer. A solid, but by no means comprehensive, victory over rivals Munster last weekend has ensured momentum heading into Europe.
The hope is that their returning Lions, few of whom really raised or further themselves on the summer’s Lions tour, will fill in where they left off for most of the latter campaign.
Robbie Henshaw played last weekend as did Sexton and the two will look to form a solid axis that can match whatever combination the French side field.
The contest is perhaps the pick of the games in the opening round and, even at this early stage, the result will represent far more than the points each side accumulates.
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