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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Cardiff Arms Park
Friday, 11th May 2007, 19:10

Referee: Malcolm Changleng (SRU),
Sub Referee: Phil Fear (WRU),
Touch Judge: Gwyn Morris (WRU)

So it all comes down to this.  Leinster go to the Cardiff Arms Park tomorrow night knowing a bonus point win will guarantee them the Magners League title, regardless of what the Ospreys do the next day.  If Leinster win without a bonus point they will be depending on the Borders pulling off a major shock by drawing with or beating the Ospreys.  Of course the Ospreys have the advantage of knowing exactly what they'll have to do the next day.  This is of course ridiculous.  Back in 2004 and 2006, when the league came down to the last round of games, all the teams in contention were made to play their final games at the same time.  This time however, the League's organisers have bowed to the wishes of the TV broadcasters, a decision that will do nothing for the credibility of the league.

Of course Cardiff can still win the league as well, but their chances are definitely slimmer.  Even if Cardiff beat Leinster with a bonus point, they will be depending on the Borders for a favour.  The Borders were brave and committed against us last week and made us sweat before we secured the bonus point but you still have to expect the Ospreys to grind out a bonus point win. So basically the Ospreys will be looking for Cardiff to do them a favour.  Given the antipathy that exists between the two teams (see the EDF semi-final) it's debatable how much of a motivation this will be for the Cardiff players.  More likely, Cardiff will want to win for themselves to complete a 100% record in front of their own fans.  So we've got to expect a tough battle regardless.

So can Leinster do it?  Well it's a tough task.  Getting a win in the Arms park isn't easy, let alone scoring four tries into the bargain.  It's been a season marked with inconsistency.  One of the great frustrations of watching Leinster is that we know how good they can play when they're properly focused.  We've a hundred percent record at home but have struggled on our travels.  The failure to beat Borders in Netherdale back in October is a result that has haunted us all season.  Since the defeat to Wasps in the Heineken Cup quarter-final there's been a cloud hanging over the team.  They haven't got back to the form they showed around Christmas.  However it will be the last game for Guy Easterby, Will Green and Leinster legend Reggie Corrigan before they head into retirement.  So hopefully that will inspire them to a big performance.

Leinster make only one change from the team that started against the Borders, with Chris Whitaker starting in place of Easterby.  In an unchanged pack, Jamie Heaslip has been the main man this season and he would be many Leinster fans' player of the season. His try against the Borders was his seventh of the season, which makes him the joint-top try scorer in the league.  Not bad going for a number eight.  Gordon D'Arcy is the form back in Europe at the moment and his performances have compensated hugely for the loss of Brian O'Driscoll.  For Leinster to win, we'll need D'Arcy, Felipe Contepomi and Denis Hickie to be at their brilliant best.

Cardiff have named a strong team. Ben Blair has recovered from the knock he took the last day against Llanelli and will start.  However the loss of Tom Shanklin and Martyn Williams to injury are two big blows.  Shanklin is a class act, a strong intelligent player and Cardiff always look a better team when he's there.  Williams is another big loss.  He's caused Leinster several problems in the past and doubtless he'll miss another chance to match-up against Keith Gleeson, another old-school groundhog.  That said, Cardiff still have plenty of quality in Rhys Williams, Chris Czekaj and Jamie Robinson in the backs and Gethin Jenkins, Robert Sidoli and Xavier Rush in the pack.  But their key man is the massive scrum-half Mike Philips.  He's a powerful runner who loves taking on the fringe defense and the Leinster back-row will know that shutting him down will go a long way towards a victory.

There will be a good crowd of Leinster supporters travelling over to cheer the boys on.  It's a shame it's a Friday night or there could have been a fair amount more.  Hopefully those who travel will make a serious amount of noise to let the lads know we're there.

Whatever the result hopefully we'll meet up with Cardiff fans afterwards for a beer and a sing-song.  I know the Welsh are normally quite shy and reserved but maybe we'll cajole some of them fans into singing a song or two.  It's been a long, tough season and I think both sets of fans deserve a good session to finish it off.


Cardiff Blues
  Leinster Rugby
Ben Blair 15 Girvan Dempsey
Rhys Williams 14 Rob Kearney
Jamie Robinson 13 Shane Horgan
Marc Stcherbina 12 Gordon D'Arcy
Chris Czekaj 11 Denis Hickie
Nick Robinson 10 Felipe Contepomi (C)
Mike Phillips 9 Guy Easterby
Gethin Jenkins 1 Reggie Corrigan
Gareth Williams 2 Bernard Jackman
Gary Powell 3 Will Green
Deiniol Jones 4 Trevor Hogan
Robert Sidoli 5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Mark Lewis 6 Stephen Keogh

Robin Sowden Taylor

7 Keith Gleeson
Xavier Rush (C) 8 Jamie Heaslip
Scott Roberts 16 Stanley Wright / Cian Healy
T. Rhys Thomas 17 Brian Blaney
Scott Morgan 18 Owen Finegan
Rhys Shellard 19 Cameron Jowitt
Wayne Evans 20 Chris Whitaker
Nick Macleod 21 Christian Warner
Tom James 22 Luke Fitzgerald / Kieran Lewis

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-05-10