Sexton in injury scare as Leinster sail through
Leinster 57 Montpellier 3
After a year in the wilderness, Leinster will once again take their place in the European elite this April after booking themselves into the quarter-finals of the Champions Cup with a 57-3 win over Montpellier.
Frans Steyn's red card for a high shot on Johnny Sexton helped, but this was an excellent display from the resurgent three-time champions who have obliterated the memory of last year's early exit by topping Pool 4.
Their mission now is to come away with enough from Castres next Friday night to earn the right to stay in Dublin for the next stage.
Having struggled to cope with Jake White's side's bulk in the return fixture, last night they played with furious pace and moved the ball around from the kick-off quickly.
It was the young tyros on the wing Adam Byrne and Rory O'Loughlin, the experienced head at full-back Isa Nacewa and power-runner Jack Conan, who crossed for a hat-trick of tries, who impressed.
Montpellier were the strongest-looking opposition at the outset of this pool, but they've been undermined by their discipline.
Steyn's high hit was crazy in the context of the zero tolerance climate and is the third red card given against them in the three pool games that have turned the tide the home side's way.
The impact raised the worrying spectre of Sexton's prior history of concussions, but the Ireland No.10 came back out after a brief foray in the dressing room to have his head inspected.
It wasn't long before the deadlock was broken.
It came by virtue of a clean break from O'Loughlin who raced on to Luke McGrath's delayed pass and stormed into the '22', finding Conan who was hauled down close to the line.
Jack McGrath picked and went before McGrath fed Sexton and he moved the ball wide with a pass for Nacewa to run on to and score.
Steyn pulled back a penalty, but it wasn't long before the home crowd were back on their feet as Nacewa pulled off a brilliant piece of play, collecting his own chip over the top and feeding Conan who scored.
Sexton converted for a second time, but then departed after a cheap, high shot from Steyn.
Leinster kept their foot on the pedal and 14-man Montpellier checked out as Nacewa sent the penalty over.
With the French side reeling, Adam Byrne joined the party; brilliantly fielding Luke McGrath's box-kick over Joffrey Michel and racing clear. Henry Immelman's hand prevented his initial pass from connecting with Conan initially, but the ball bounced kindly for the blindside and he returned the favour by releasing the Kill native.
Ross Byrne converted before making way for the returned Sexton. They had to sustain pressure either side of half-time but Montpellier's best chance came and went when they went off their feet at a ruck when camped on the Leinster line.
Rob Kearney, on for the injured Nacewa, almost scored the bonus-point try but he knocked on. It wasn't to matter as Josh van der Flier forced a penalty in Montpellier territory and the hosts went to the corner.
Conan took the lineout and then worked his way around the corner after a strong maul and taking Luke McGrath's pass and bullying his way through.
Sexton converted before being called ashore with the job done.
Leinster weren't finished and Luke McGrath crossed for his side's fifth try and Ross Byrne converted. He was called on again when Cian Healy powered over from close range before Conan forced his way over his third try.
Garry Ringrose completed the rout but the 17,585-strong home faithful had long started planning for a home quarter-final.
Few would bet against them going further on this form.