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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Cardiff Arms Park
Friday, 28 September 2007, 19:30

After a good start last weekend, Leinster face a tough trip to Cardiff on Friday night. The Welsh clubs decided to play some early fixtures at the start of September to avoid the fixture congestion that we saw at the end of last season. Cardiff took advantage by winning two from two against the Ospreys and the Dragons. They followed that up with a bonus point win over Glasgow last weekend and look to be in good shape.

They make three changes in the backs from that team. Jason Spice comes in at scrum-half to partner Nick Robinson, while Ben Blair and Tom James come into the back three. Spice is a very experienced operator, Blair is an excellent goal-kicker and James has pace to burn, so none of these changes weaken the team. In the pack John Yapp comes in at loosehead prop and Welsh international Robert Sidoli starts alongside Paul Tito in the second row. Mark Lewis replaces Ben White in the back-row in the only other change. It's a strong pack and former All-Black Xavier Rush captains the team from number eight.

For Leinster there is only one change in the backs, with Fergus McFadden starting in place of the injured Michael Berne. It's the first competitive start for the young centre who impressed last year in the Leinster 'A' team.

Michael Chieka was criticised last year for not rotating his side, so it's notable that there's three changes to the pack for this week. Stephen Knoop takes over from Juan Gomez at tight-head prop. In the back row Kevin McLaughlin and Shane Jennings replace Stephen Keogh and Keith Gleeson who drop to the bench. Though nominally a number eight, McLaughlin will relish his first competitive start for Leinster on the blind-side and will look to show off his ball-carrying skills.

Shane Jennings will be looking to put down a marker in his battle with Keith Gleeson for the number seven jersey. Jennings was very highly-rated over in Leicester, so much so that he narrowly missed out on being voted the Premiership player of the season (he came second to team-mate Martin Castrogiovanni). He returned to Ireland with a view to winning a place in the Irish back-row, but first he has to nail down his place with Leinster. The redoubtable Keith Gleeson won't give up without a fight though. Gleeson stands to win his one hundreth cap for Leinster should he join the action from the bench. Gleeson has been a massively important player for Leinster for the last six years. His achievement should be noted by supporters at the next home game.

So can Leinster win? Well there's not much to choose between the teams on paper and perhaps Leinster even have an edge. However, they went on the road with strong teams many times last season and returned empty handed. Indeed, the Connacht and Dragons games were their only away wins in the league. There needs to be a change in the team mentality to block out the crowds and just play their own game. Cardiff is a tough, intimidating venue but if they can win there, it would be a massive confidence builder that would set up the squad for the season.

Allez Les Blues

Cardiff Blues
  Leinster Rugby
Ben Blair
15 Rob Kearney
Jamie Roberts 14 Gary Brown
Tal Selley 13 Fergus McFadden
Dafydd Hewitt 12 Christian Warner
Tom James 11 Luke Fitzgerald
Nick Robinson 10 Jonathan Sexton
Jason Spice 9 Chris Whitaker
John Yapp 1 Stanley Wright
Gareth Williams 2 Bernard Jackman
Gary Powell 3 Stephen Knoop
Robert Sidoli 4 Trevor Hogan
Paul Tito 5 Leo Cullen (C)
Mark Lewis 6 Kevin McLaughlin
Robin Sowden-Taylor 7 Shane Jennings
Xavier Rush (C)
8 Jamie Heaslip
Scott Roberts 16 Brian Blaney
Ross Johnson 17 Cian Healy / Juan Francisco Gomez
Bradley Davies 18 Cameron Jowitt
Scott Morgan 19 Stephen Keogh
Richie Rees 20 Keith Gleeson
Dai Flanagan 21 Cillian Willis
Tom Riley 22 Ross McCarron

by Jim O'Connor, © 2007-09-27