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Leinster Rugby vs Cardiff Blues
Royal Dublin Society Showgrounds, Dublin
Saturday, 11th September 2010, 18:30

Television: Live RTE2

Leinster take on Cardiff in their first home match of the season tomorrow evening at the RDS. This is Leinster's only home match in September and they'll be desperate for a win to get the Joe Schmidt era going. After Benetton Treviso's win at home to the Scarlets last week, next week's trip there looks a lot more tricky and the following week they've another tough trip to Edinburgh. So it's vital that they get a win tomorrow to give them some momentum.

Last week's defeat to Glasgow will have rankled with Schmidt and the Leinster players all week. It wasn't the result in itself, as losing away to Glasgow is no disgrace; it was the manner of the defeat. In the first half Leinster played very well against a Glasgow side that were struggling. Leinster's fears about the scrum were unfounded as Heinke van der Merwe and Simon Shawe gave the home scrum a torrid time. This platform enabled the backrow to run riot and Jamie Heaslip looked incredibly sharp, continuing on his great form from last season. They scored two, admittedly opportunistic, tries and with a ten-point lead at half time, they looked well placed to win at a canter.

In the second half the roles were reversed dramatically. Suddenly Glasgow were dominating possession and it was Leinster who couldn't put two phases together without knocking on or kicking out on the full. Their discipline collapsed and senior players, who should know better, started giving away incredibly stupid penalties. Glasgow deservedly built themselves a winning lead and Leinster even botched a late attempt to snatch a draw at the end.

The defeat seems to have concentrated minds and Leinster have named a very strong team for tomorrow with plenty of returning Ireland internationals. Jonathan Sexton returns to play at out-half, which allows Isa Nacewa to return to the left wing in place of Niall Morris. Brian O'Driscoll is back at outside centre where he'll partner Fergus McFadden for the first time from the start of a match. Eoin O'Malley, who went well against Glasgow, has to be content with a place on the bench.

In the pack Shane Jennings returns to captain the team at open-side flanker. This means Sean O'Brien moves across to blind-side in place of Dominic Ryan, who's unlucky to have to drop out after his impressive, try-scoring performance last week. The only other change is the return from injury of tight-head Mike Ross to anchor the scrum. Simon Shawe drops to the bench, where there are further returning internationals in Eoin Reddan and Cian Healy. It's a very strong team, in fact far stronger than Leinster fans are used to seeing this early in the season.

Cardiff come into the match on the back of some very impressive form. They're unbeaten in all competitions since March when Leinster beat them 29-20 at the Cardiff City Stadium. That defeat rankled with them as Fergus McFadden kicked a long-range penalty to deny them a bonus point in the last act of the match. That bonus point would have been enough to earn them a place in the play-offs. That disappointment though was offset by their triumph in the Amlin Challenge Cup, when they beat Toulon in a superb final.

They want to use that victory as a springboard to further success and to that end they've made a very important signing in Scottish out-half Dan Parks. They were awful for the first half of last season and it was in a large part due to Dai Young's bizarre decision to trust the out-half slot to Sam Norton-Knight, who'd previously been only ever a utility outside back. It was only when Young abandoned that experiment and put Ceri Sweeney back in that their season turned around. Though Sweeney is still there, Parks has been brought in and he has already made his presence felt, kicking 14 points in their 34-23 bonus point win over Edinburgh last weekend.

Parks again partners Richie Rees at halfback this week. There is only one change in the backline, Dafydd Hewitt replacing Tom Shanklin at inside centre. There are four changes in the pack though as Tom Davies, Deiniol Jones, Sam Warburton and Michael Paterson come in. New Zealander Paterson makes his debut after being signed in the summer and makes up a powerful backrow with Warburton and Xavier Rush, who captains the team in Paul Tito's absence. Like Leinster, their props have been hit by injury and so they've named the inexperienced pair of Scott Andrews and Tom Davies. John Yapp and Fa'ao Filise have been named on the bench, but both have been struggling with injury.

Despite their injuries, it's still a strong Cardiff team and they have plenty of dangermen out wide in the likes of Tom James, Chris Czekaj and Casey Laulala. Dai Young has been talking tough about 'knocking the Irish provinces off their perch' and though he's rowed back on some of those comments this week, the Leinster squad are well aware of them. Even with most of the Irish internationals back, it will still take a while to reassimilate them into the team. It's going to be tough and probably scrappy but hopefully Leinster will have enough class to extend their winning streak over Cardiff to seven matches.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Cardiff Blues
Teams Luke Fitzgerald
15 Chris Czekaj
Shane Horgan
14 Richard Mustoe
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Casey Laulala
Fergus McFadden
12 Dafydd Hewitt
Isa Nacewa 11 Tom James
Jonathan Sexton
10 Dan Parks
Isaac Boss
9 Richie Rees

Heinke van der Merwe 1 Tom Davies
Richardt Strauss 2 T Rhys Thomas
Mike Ross 3 Scott Andrews
Nathan Hines
4 Bradley Davies
Ed O'Donoghue
5 Deiniol Jones
Sean O'Brien
6 Michael Paterson
Shane Jennings (C)
7 Sam Warburton
Jamie Heaslip
8 Xavier Rush (C)

Replacements John Fogarty
16 Rhys Williams
Cian Healy
17 John Yapp
Simon Shawe
18 Fa'ao Filise
Mariano Galarza
19 James Down
Dominic Ryan
20 Ben White
Eoin Reddan
21 Lloyd Williams
Ian Madigan
22 Ceri Sweeney
Eoin O'Malley
23 Gavin Evans

Not Considered
due to Injury
Stan Wright
Leo Cullen
Kevin McLaughlin
Shaun Berne
Devin Toner

Officials Referee: Andy Macpherson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Simon McDowell, Jonathan Peake (both IRFU)
TMO: Tony Redmond (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-03-24