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Leinster Rugby vs Cardiff Blues

Royal Dublin Showground
Saturday, 16 February 2008, 19:30

Television: Live - Setanta Sports 2, S4C
Season Ticket: Magners League 6

So after a four-week hiatus, Leinster return to action this Saturday night with a top of the table match against Cardiff. Shoe-horned into the rest weekends from the Six Nations, normally Magners League games are almost seen as filler but this is a crucial match for Leinster's season. Out of the Heineken Cup, the Magners League is now the only chance of getting something out of this campaign. After blowing their chances in the run-in in the last two seasons, Leinster will be determined to win the title at the third time of asking. A win in Saturday's match will be a big step to achieving that.

Leinster are of course top of the table, but Cardiff are in second place, only five points behind. In effect then, this game is an "eight-pointer". To add more intensity to the occasion, Cardiff will be looking to avenge their defeat at home back in September to a young Leinster side. That unexpected triumph ended Cardiff's run of home wins and it surely still rankles with them.

Cardiff have had a good season so far, qualifying for the Quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup for the first time in seven years. Their form in the Magners has been mixed though. After a storming start with five wins from their first six games (the defeat to Leinster their only defeat), they then lost three out of their last four. However they did win their last two games in the Heineken Cup group to win their group so they do have some good recent form.

Because of the dominance of the Ospreys in the Welsh team at the moment the Blues are able to name a very strong team for Saturday night. They're only missing Gethin Jenkins, Martyn Willams and Tom Shanklin to the Welsh team and they have three internationals to fill in for them in John Yapp, Robin Sowden-Taylor and Jamie Robinson. Robinson is partnered by the massively experienced Gareth Thomas in the centre. Two big young wingers, Jamie Roberts and Tom James, complete a massive three-quarter line. Ben Blair at full-back is a prolific place-kicker and Leinster will need to maintain their discipline in their own half. With Nick Robinson out injured, Nick Macleod partners Kiwi Jason Spice at half-back.

Xavier Rush captain's the team at number eight and he's the heart-beat of the side. If he plays well, they generally win. The powerful if temperamental Maama Molitika and Sowden-Taylor complete a fine back-row. Rush's fellow Kiwi Paul Tito has been a major player for the Blues this season with his aggression and expertise in the line-out. He partner's the experienced Scott Morgan in the second row and Tauf'au Filise and Gareth Williams complete the front five along with Yapp.

Due to injuries and internationals call-ups, the Leinster squad has been stretched but they're still able to name a strong team. The selection of Ollie Le Roux at hooker will raise a few eyebrows as Big Ollie has played all his rugby for Leinster so far at loose-head prop. It might be a risk at the line-out but it's certainly some size of a front row! After missing four months through injury Trevor Hogan makes a welcome return to the starting line-up alongside captain Leo Cullen in the second row. Shane Jennings picked up a knock in training during the week so Cameron Jowitt starts at blindside with Keith Gleeson on the open-side. In Jamie Heaslip's absence, Stephen Keogh starts his first game for Leinster at number eight.

In the packs Chris Whitaker returns after the broken leg he suffered in the away match in Toulouse. He's partnered by Felipe Contepomi and he, Christian Warner and Michael Berne make up an experienced midfield. Shane Horgan starts on the right wing, and he'll be trying to prove his fitness in time for the recall to the starting Irish team next week against Scotland. Luke Fitzgerald will look to counter-attack in a rare start at full-back and the dependable Gary Brown completes the back-three.

The bench is notable for the inclusion of two academy players in Eoin O'Malley and Felix Jones. Jones was part of the winning Ireland Under-20s team last season and has impressed for the Leinster 'A' team this season. O'Malley wasn't named in the initial playing squad but his form for this years' Under-20s Ireland team has earned him a spot on the bench. Both players will be desperate to make his first team debuts at some stage of the evening.

It's going to be a tight, tough affair and with neither team having played for four weeks don't be surprised to see a rusty, error-strewn first half. Cardiff present a real challenge and they'll be up for it, but hopefully Leinster's bulky pack and experienced half-backs can steer them to a vital win.

Team Lineups
  Leinster Rugby   Cardiff Blues
Teams Luke Fitzgerald 15 Ben Blair
Shane Horgan
14 Jamie Roberts
Christian Warner
13 Jamie Robinson
Michael Berne
12 Gareth Thomas
Gary Brown
11 Tom James
Felipe Contepomi 10 Nick Lacleod
Chris Whitaker
9 Jason Spice
Cian Healy
1 John Yapp
Ollie Le Roux
2 Gareth Williams
Stan Wright 3 Tauf'au Filise
Trevor Hogan 4 Scott Morgan
Leo Cullen (C)
5 Paul Tito
Cameron Jowitt
6 Maama Molitika
Keith Gleeson 7 Robin Sowden Taylor
Stephen Keogh
8 Xavier Rush (C)
Replacements Brian Blaney 16 Gary Powell
Stephen Knoop
17 T Rhys Thomas
Devin Toner
18 Ben White
Kevin McLaughlin
19 Mark Lewis
Chris Keane
20 Richie Rees
Eoin O'Malley
21 Rhys Jones
Felix Jones
22 Tal Selley

by Jim O'Connor, © 2008-02-15