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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Cardiff Arms Park, Saturday
Saturday, 06th September, 2008, 18:30

Live: Live Setanta Ireland

After a long, (not so) hot summer, Leinster fans can finally get their teeth into some competitive action again. There's been a lot of excitement during the summer on the transfer front particularly with the signings of world-class internationals Rocky Elsom and CJ van der Linde. However the capture of Isa Nacewa, though less heralded, may prove to be the pick of the bunch. Hugely rated down under, Nacewa would have been an All-Black for sure, had it not been for a two-minute appearance for Fiji at a World Cup. A naturally elusive runner, his ability to slot into any position from 10 to 15 will have a lot of the Leinster backs looking over their shoulders this season. John Fogarty has arrived from Connacht to compete for the hooking berth and Simon Keogh makes a welcome return to his home province after a highly successful spell with Harlequins. In addition to this Fergus McFadden and Eoin O'Malley have been promoted to the senior squad from the academy along with flanker Sean O'Brien, who's been tipped for greatness by Keith Gleeson, a man who knows a thing or two about the position. Off-field there has been changes too, with the welcome return of Alan Gaffney as assistant coach and the arrival of Jonno Gibbes as the new forwards coach.

Leinster start their season determined to become the first team to successfully defend the Magners/Celtic League. To that end they couldn't have a tougher start in that they face the teams who finished second, third and fourth last season (Cardiff, Munster and Edinburgh) in their first four games. The other game is the Ospreys, who are hardly pushovers either. To that end, it's pleasing to see that the full Leinster team will be available from the start, the policy of resting internationals at the beginning of the season having been scrapped by the new Ireland management team.

It's perhaps a measure of the new strength of the squad that internationals like Luke Fitzgerald, Girvan Dempsey and Trevor Hogan are on the bench tomorrow. Michael Chieka has, a little surprisingly, named an unchanged line-up from the fifteen that started against Queensland. Ronnie McCormack retains the tight-head spot after impressing last week and Stephen Knoop has recovered from illness to take a bench spot. Bernard Jackman has shaken off the knock he received last week to complete the front row with Cian Healy. In a big vote of confidence Devin Toner retains his second row spot ahead of Trevor Hogan. It's a make or break season for the giant lock and he'll have to make the most of chances like these. He partners Mal O'Kelly who was in great form last week. In the backrow Cameron Jowitt is rewarded for his fine display against Queensland with the retention of his starting spot at blind-side flanker. Jamie Heaslip and Shane Jennings complete an exciting looking back-row and young Sean O'Brien will be hungry for more action off the bench.

In the backs Nacewa starts at full-back, possibly the most competitive position on the team now. Rob Kearney settles for a spot on the left wing with Shane Horgan on the other side. Felipe Contepomi and Brian O'Driscoll make up a hugely experienced centre pairing and Jonny Sexton and captain Chris Whitaker will steer the ship from half-back. It is striking how competitive the backline has become with the likes of Dempsey and Fitzgerald on the bench and Gordon D'Arcy still to return. Starting spots are a precious commodity these days and the guys in possession will be under major pressure to keep their places.

Cardiff are in a watershed season, where they will feel they have to win something to progress as a club. Last season they were runners-up in the Magners League, for the second season running. They had particular reason to rue the two games against Leinster last season. Firstly they lost at home to a young Leinster team during the World Cup and then they lost the return in the RDS after going 14-0 in front. So they'll be very much out for revenge tomorrow and they've named a typically strong team.

New Zealand lock Paul Tito has replaced Xavier Rush as captain and he partners young Welsh tyro Bradley Davies in the second row. The regular front row of Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Williams and Taufa'ao Filise start and they will be looking for an advantage here considering Leinster's injury problems in the front row. With number eight Rush out injured Andy Powell starts in his place and Martyn Williams and Mamma Molitika complete a very dangerous and experienced back-row.

Ceri Sweeney has arrived from the Dragons to compete for the out-half spot, but Nicky Robinson gets the nod for now and he partners Jason Spice. Darren Allinson, who's been tipped as one to watch, has to settle for a space on the bench. Jamie Roberts, who's previously been seen on the wing and at full-back is tried in the centre, which may be his long-term position if Warren Gatland has his way. He partners Tom Shanklin in the centre and Chris Czekaj returns from a long-term knee injury on the left wing. Ben Blair and Richard Mustoe complete the back three.

Cardiff is a tough place to get a win and they've only lost twice in the Arms park in the last two years. The weather forecast is pretty bad and it could well become a scrappy battle up front. However Leinster got used to digging out wins in messy conditions last season and hopefully they'll be able to just nick this one.

Team Lineups
  Cardiff Blues
  Leinster Rugby
Teams Ben Blair
15 Isa Nacewa
Richard Mustoe
14 Shane Horgan
Tom Shanklin
13 Brian O'Driscoll
Jamie Roberts
12 Felipe Contepomi
Chris Czekaj
11 Robert Kearney
Nicky Robinson
10 Jonathan Sexton
Jason Spice
9 Chris Whitaker (C)
Gethin Jenkins
1 Cian Healy
Gareth Williams
2 Bernard Jackman
Taufa'ao Filise
3 Ronan McCormack
Bradley Davies
4 Devin Toner
Paul Tito (C)
5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Mamma Molitika
6 Cameron Jowitt
Andy Powell
7 Shane Jennings
Martyn Williams
8 Jamie Heaslip
Replacements Gary Powell
16 John Fogarty
T. Rhys Thomas
17 Stephen Knoop
Scott Morgan
18 Trevor Hogan
Ben White
19 Sean O'Brien
Darren Allinson
20 Chris Keane
Ceri Sweeney
21 Luke Fitzgerald
Jamie Robinson
22 Girvan Dempsey
Not Considered
due to Injury

  Stan Wright
Gordon D'Arcy
Leo Cullen
Officials Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: David Bodilly (WRU), Jon Mason (WRU)
TMO: Tony Rowlands (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-08-23