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Leinster Rugby vs Cardiff Blues
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 27th September 2013, 19:35

Television: Live - TG4, S4C

After the try-scoring exploits of the first two weeks, last week's game against Glasgow brought Leinster's mood back down to earth.  The result in itself wasn't a disgrace, nabbing a losing bonus point away to Glasgow isn't so bad given how much the Scots have improved in recent years.  However Leinster's self-assessment process is far too honest for them to take much comfort from that as even the losing bonus point was largely down to Glasgow's almost comically bad place-kicking.  It resembled the early episodes of the X-Factor as a succession of kickers came up to take their turn to miss, each player doing worse than the last.  It denied Glasgow the comfortable victory they deserved, even though they themselves were far from their best.

However, even a below-par Glasgow performance was more than enough to beat Leinster as they were simply awful, second-best in every aspect of the game.  From the first minute to the last, they never showed even one spark of invention.  They played the entire game as if they were stuck in second gear, slowly and tediously getting nowhere until they inevitably turned over the ball.  It was strangely and worryingly reminiscent of away days in the league pre-Joe Schmidt when the team just seemed to go through the motions.

Getting the team back on track for this week is the first major challenge of Matt O'Connor's tenure and he'll be happy that this week's game is at home to a Cardiff side that are coming off a defeat to Zebre.  It was nice for Zebre to finally get their first win, but the Blues will feel a bit embarrassed about it, especially as it came at Cardff Arms Park. Even by the low standards of the Welsh regions, the Blues have been a basket-case for the past three seasons, with persistent financial problems that have seen most of their top players leave.

During the summer Jamie Roberts moved on to join up with Jonny Sexton at Racing Metro in Paris.  They have managed to hold onto the three of their Lions in Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert and Sam Warburton for now and there was some good news on the recruitment front in the summer.  The three-time Lions loosehead prop Gethin Jenkins returned home after one pretty miserable year in Toulon.  They also signed another former Lion in hooker Matthew Rees.  Both are quality players on their day, although with their injury profiles, you'd wonder how much they'll actually play.

So far this season, Cardiff lost away to Glasgow (like Leinster taking a creditable losing bonus point) before beating Connacht at home.  So things weren't really going that bad until their shock defeat last week to Zebre.  That defeat hit the Blues hard though and their coach Phil Davies has been taking plenty of flak.  The last thing he'd have wanted then was a trip to the RDS where they've conceded over fifty points on their last two visits.  Last season in particular, they put in a disgracefully tepid performance in conceding nine tries in a 59-22 defeat.  This was despite Cardiff fielding a near full strength team featuring stars like Warburton, Halfpenny, Roberts and Cuthbert.  It really raised the question of whether the Welsh stars were happy purely to focus on their international careers and simply go through the motions at club level.

Davies has named a team with seven changes (including two positional) from last week, the most prominent of which is the return of Warburton.  The Lions skipper has returned from his hamstring injury five weeks ahead of schedule and he comes in at openside which means Josh Navidi goes to blindside with Andries Pretorius staying at number eight.  In the front row Sam Hobbs and skipper Matthew Rees come in and Taufa'ao Filise switches over to the tight side.  With Bradley Davies still suspended, Lou Reed and Filo Paulo are unchanged in the second row.

There are two more changes in the backs as exciting new talent Harry Robinson returns to the left wing to make up a potent back three with Lions Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert.  International scrum-half Lloyd Williams is recalled and is paired at half back with young Rhys Patchell, another promising player.  Owen Williams and Dafydd Hewitt form the midfield partnership.

Leinster have been boosted by the return of two more Lions in Jamie Heaslip and Brian O'Driscoll after Cian Healy and Rob Kearney returned last week.  All four are named in a starting line-up that shows a whopping 13 changes (including one positional switch) from the team that started last week.   Isaac Boss and Dave Kearney are the only players to retain their jerseys from last Friday.  Ian Madigan is the only other player to remain in the starting line-up, but he makes the switch from full-back to make a welcome first start at out-half this season.

Rob Kearney starts at full-back this week and Fergus McFadden finally gets to make his first start on the right wing after a delayed start to the season.  Brian O'Driscoll begins his last season as a Leinster player in a partnership with Noel Reid in the centre.  He's clearly going to be very well-managed in terms of playing time this season so Leinster fans should savour every chance we get to see him run out at the RDS.

It's a whole new pack with Healy making up a front row with Sean Cronin and Martin Moore.  Quinn Roux has recovered from an ankle injury to be able to partner Devin Toner in the second row.  Heaslip returns as captain with flankers Rhys Ruddock and Dominic Ryan either side of him.

There could be a reaction from Cardiff to the defeat from last week and they might well put in a decent effort.  There's certainly more than enough talent in their starting fifteen to do so but given their history on the road their fans will be sceptical.  Regardless of Cardiff's situation, Matt O'Connor will want a massively improved performance for his side and it's quite likely that he'll get it too.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Cardiff Blues
Teams Rob Kearney
15 Leigh Halfpenny
Fergus McFadden
14 Alex Cuthbert
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Owen Williams
Noel Reid
12 Dafydd Hewitt
Dave Kearney
11 Harry Robinson
Ian Madigan
10 Rhys Patchell
Isaac Boss
9 Lloyd Williams

Cian Healy
1 Sam Hobbs
Richardt Strauss 2 Matthew Rees (C)
Martin Moore 3 Taufa'ao Filise
Devin Toner 4 Lou Reed
Quinn Roux
5 Filo Paulo
Rhys Ruddock 6 Josh Navidi
Dominic Ryan
7 Sam Warburton
Jamie Heaslip (C)
8 Andries Pretorius

Replacements Aaron Dundon 16 Kristian Dacey
Jack McGrath
17 Thomas Davies
Mike Ross
18 Scott Andrews
Tom Denton 19 James Down
Jordi Murphy
20 Robin Copeland
John cooney
21 Lewis Jones
Jimmy Gopperth
22 Gareth Davies
Brendan Macken
23 Cory Allen

Not Considered
due to Injury
Michael Bent,
Andrew Goodman,
Leo Cullen,
Luke Fitzgerald,
Darren Hudson,
Shane Jennings,
Lote Tuqiri,
Darragh Fanning

Gethin Jenkins

by Jim O'Connor, © 2013-09-26

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