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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Cardiff City Stadium,
Sunday, 7th March 2010, 16:00

Television: Live Setanta Ireland

Leinster travel to Cardiff this Sunday looking to cement their position in the table with a precious away win. It's going to be a tough task against a Blues team in very good form but Leinster have shown in the past that they can go to Wales during the Six Nations and win.

After a very indifferent first half of the season, Cardiff have rediscovered their form in the new year. They've won their last five games in all competitions, a run that's secured them a quarter-final spot in the European Challenge Cup and a home semi-final in the LV cup. They've also rediscovered some of the attacking threat that made them so easy on the eye last year as they've score a remarkable 23 tries in that five game winning run.

Their season has been revived by their cup success but their league position of third from bottom is still an embarrassment considering they were considered among the favourites back in September. With a good enough run they could still make the play-offs, as though in eighth place at the moment, they are only ten points off the lead. Crucially though, they've played one more game than most of their rivals and two more than Leinster. If they want to make the top four, they'll probably need to win all of their last six matches starting with this Sunday's. No wonder their coach Dai Young has called this game their "most important home match of the season".

Their last match out was a highly impressive 30-7 win in Glasgow and most of the starting team from that match is retained. All Black centre Casey Laulala has been a big part of their recent revival after he recovered from an injury that wrecked the first half of his season. Laulala has scored three tries in his last two games and he forms an excellent midfield with the class act that is Tom Shanklin. Tom James and Chris Czekaj are both big international wingers and Ben Blair is a proven points scorer at fullback. Experienced halfbacks Gareth Cooper and Ceri Sweeney complete an all-international backline.

In the pack they've lost Deniol Jones to an injury he picked up on Wales duty so Scott Morgan replaces him in the second row alongside captain Paul Tito. Ulster-bound number eight Xavier Rush is the in the backrow with the aggressive Maama Molitika and Sam Warburton, who replaces Ben White in the only other change from the Glasgow match. Rhys Thomas is at hooker with Taufa'ao Filise and Gary Powell either side of him in the front row. Early morning golf fan Andy Powell is content with a place on the bench. It's a very impressive side and Leinster will be up against it.

For Leinster Eoin Reddan and Shane Jennings return from Ireland duty. With Leo Cullen rested, Jennings captains the team again and will partner Kevin McLaughlin and Stephen Keogh in the backrow. Keogh replaces the unfortunate Sean O'Brien whose season was sadly ended against the Scarlets when he broke his leg. When he replaced O'Brien in that match Keogh had probably his best ever outing as a number eight for Leinster, making countless hard yards with the ball in hand. Despite being immensely respected within the squad Keogh has become something of a peripheral figure in the last two seasons. But with the O'Brien injury and Leinster not having great depth in the backrow, he may well have a crucial role to play in the rest of the campaign.

The rest of the Leinster pack is the same as that which started against the Scarlets, Stan Wright having recovered from the knock that he picked up in that match. In the backline, Jonny Sexton's well-deserved promotion to starting Ireland fly-half means there's a reshuffle. Shaun Berne moves from centre to number ten, Fergus McFadden shifts up one place to inside centre and Eoin O'Malley makes his second start at outside centre. O'Malley has been impressive for the 'A' team recently and will be looking forward to another chance at this level.

An injury to Shane Horgan means that Andrew Conway comes in on the right wing for his first senior start in a back three with Isa Nacewa and Girvan Dempsey. Dempsey turned back the clock with a superb all round display against the Scarlets and he showed there's life in the old dog yet. It was a well-timed display considering the amount of young guns coming through like Conway, who at eighteen years old, is almost half Dempey's age (Dempsey won't thank me for pointing that out!)

Conway had a dream five-minute debut against the Scarlets, setting up a try with his first touch and then preventing a try with a last-gasp tackle at the other end. It provided sustenance to those who've been claiming he's the next big thing since witnessing his exploits in last season's Senior School's cup with Blackrock. He looks like he could do with a bit more bulking up, but he's certainly got real pace and looks to have a balance in his running that you just can't coach. It's a tough task for the young man on Sunday, especially up against a big winger in Chris Czekaj, but he could ask for no one better than Girvan Dempsey to talk him through it.

Frankly it's going to take a major effort from Leinster to get anything out of this game. Though Leinster haven't lost to Cardiff since May 2007, a lot of the games since have been mighty close and Cardiff will feel they owe Leinster one. However, if Leinster can weather the early storm and the unfamiliar backline can come together, they could just scramble an unlikely win.

Team Lineups

Cardiff Blues

Leinster Rugby
Teams Ben Blair
15 Girvan Dempsey
Tom James
14 Andrew Conway
Casey Laulala
13 Eoin O'Malley
Tom Shanklin
12 Fergus McFadden
Chris Czekaj
11 Isa Nacewa
Ceri Sweeney
10 Shaun Berne
Gareth Cooper
9 Eoin Reddan

Taufa'ao Filise
1 Stan Wright
T Rhys Thomas
2 Bernard Jackman
Gary Powell
3 CJ van der Linde
Scott Morgan
4 Devin Toner
Paul Tito (C)
5 Malcolm O'Kelly
Maama Molitika
6 Kevin McLaughlin
Sam Warbutron
7 Shane Jennings (C)
Xavier Rush
8 Stephen Keogh

Replacements Huw Dowden
16 Richardt Strauss
Scott Andrews
17 Mike Ross
Andries Pretorius
18 Trevor Hogan
Andy Powell
19 Rhys Ruddock
Lloyd Williams
20 Paul O'Donohoe
Sam Norton-Knight
21 Ian Madigan
Dafydd Hewitt
22 Simon Keogh

Not Considered
due to Injury

Luke Fitzgerald
Sean O'Brien
John Fogarty
Shane Horgan
Officials Referee: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
Assistant Referees: D. Wilkinson (IRFU), M. Black (IRFU)
TMO: Bernie Smith (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2010-03-06