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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 15
Cardiff Arms Park,
Saturday, 20th February 2016, 15:00

Television: Sky Sports 1

It's tight at the top!

All the teams in the top four won last weekend to create a six-point gap between them and the teams in the chasing pack. The chasing pack include last year's champions Glasgow and last year's losing finalist Munster, who play each other in a crucial game tonight. It shows how competitive the league has become and it's vital for Leinster to keep winning to keep their position. Last week they had a very handy win over a poor Zebre side, winning both halves 26-0. This week promises to be a tougher test on Cardiff's 4G pitch.

They take on a Cardiff side looking to bounce back from a shock defeat away to Treviso last weekend. It was Treviso's first win of the season in all competitions and it was all the more surprising as Cardiff had won their previous four league games on the trot. It leaves Cardiff down in 9th place, about their usual level. Their fans have at least seen some entertaining rugby though as they've scored and conceded 33 tries this season.

Cardiff make four changes with a new-look half back pairing in internatioanls Gareth Anscombe and Lloyd Williams. Alex Cuthbert comes in to start on the right wing so American international Blaine Scully switches to the left wing. Rey Lee-Lo and Corey Allen make up a powerful centre combination and Rhys Patchell is a very useful place-kicker at full back.

The only change to the pack sees blindside flanker Josh Turnbull recalled to the side. He teams up with openside Ellis Jenkins and Italian international number eight Manoa Vosawai. Jarrad Hoeata, whose red card was a crucial point in this fixture last year, is paired with James Down in the second row. Australian international prop Salesi Ma'afu, who was sacked by Toulon earlier in the season after being convicted of assualt, packs down at tighthead with Thomas Davies on the loose side and Kristian Dacey at hooker. Leading try scorer Tom James, who has made a dramatic comeback to the Welsh side after a five year absence, is named on the bench alongside experienced hooker Matthew Rees.

Leinster have made eight changes to the team that started last week as a number of players come back from the Ireland squad. Five players who were on the Ireland bench last week come into the squad with Fergus McFadden, Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan and Tadgh Furlong starting and Richardt Strauss being named on the bench. Another player from the international squad, Rhys Ruddock comes in to start in a backrow that sees Jack Conan back from injury to start at number eight, with Jordi Murphy moving to openside to accommodate him. In the second row Mick Kearney finally gets to make his debut after recovering from injury. Kearney is a Leinster native who joined Connacht and made his name there. His good form earned him a move back to Leinster last summer but he's been cursed with injury ever since. He'll be eager to show what he can do in a second row with Hayden Triggs who scored his first try for Leinster last week. Cian Healy, who signed a new contract with the IRFU this week, remains in the front row with Furlong and Sean Cronin coming in to start. The inclusion of McFadden, Madigan and Reddan are the only changes to the backline.

Leinster will be favourites to win, but when the hopeless Peter Fitzgibbon is refereeing, anything can happen. Expect another high-scoring game but hopefully Leinster will have enough up front to secure another win.

Team Lineups

Cardiff Blues

Leinster Rugby
Teams Rhys Patchell15 Zane Kirchner
Alex Cuthbert14 Fergus McFadden
Cory Allen13 Garry Ringrose
Rey Lee-Lo12 Ben Te'o
Blaine Scully11 Isa Nacewa (C)
Gareth Anscombe10 Ian Madigan
Lloyd Williams (C)9 Eoin Reddan

Thomas Davies 1 Cian Healy
Kristian Dacey2 Sean Cronin
Salesi Ma'afu3 Tadhg Furlong
Jarrad Hoeata4 Mick Kearney
James Down5 Hayden Triggs
Josh Turnbull6 Rhys Ruddock
Ellis Jenkins7 Jordi Murphy
Manoa Vosawai8 Jack Conan

Replacements Matthew Rees16 Richardt Strauss
Bradley Thyer17 Peter Dooley
Taufa'ao Filise18 Mike Ross
Macauley Cook19 Tom Denton
Josh Navidi20
Dan Leavy
Tomos Williams21 Nick McCarthy
Tom James22 Noel Reid
Dan Fish23 Adam Byrne

Not Considered
Due to Injury

Edward Byrne,
Tom Daly,
Tom Farrell,
Marty Moore,
Colm O'Shea,
Royce Burke-Flynn,
Gavin Thornbury,
Dave Kearney,
Sean O'Brien,
Isaac Boss,
Mike McCarthy
Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU),
Assistant Referees: Sean Brickell, Simon Rees (both WRU),
Citing Commissioner: John Charles (WRU),
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2016-02-19