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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Guinness Pro12 Round 13
Cardiff Arms Park,
Saturday, 10th January 2014, 14:40

Television: Live - Sky Sports 1

Leinster bounced back last week with a decent win over Ulster. After a poor enough first half, in which they were fortunate Ulster didn't take their chances, Leinster dominated the second for a deserved victory. On a good weekend all round, all of the top four teams lost, remarkably none even earning a bonus point, so Leinster edged into the top four.

It wasn't all perfect of course. Leinster's kicking game in the first half bordered on the bizarre and there's still no cutting edge in the backline. Luke Fitzgerald's verve and energy are there for all to see in the centre but the slow service from the halves means he's getting boxed in too easily. If released into some space, those quick feet of his could be devastating but we've yet to really see it this season.

If Leinster fans can take one thing positive from the game though, it's the depth the squad has in the backrow. Sean O'Brien, Rhys Ruddock, Kevin McLaughlin, Dominic Ryan and Dan Leavy were already on the injured list before Shane Jennings withdrew from the team after aggravating his hamstring injury in the warm-up. Then the unthinkable happened, Jamie "Unbreakable" Heaslip went off injured for the first time in just over four years.

So Leinster were left with three players with a combined average age of 22. Jack Conan moved from blindside to number eight, Jordi Murphy moved from open-side to blindside and Josh van der Flier, a last minute addition to the playing squad came on to make only his second appearance at open-side for the senior team. They were up against an Ulster unit that featured the hugely experienced Robbie Diack and Roger Wilson. Yet, the young trio were excellent, and completely eclipsed their opposite unit.

Conan carried like a Boss and finished up with a try and a deserved man of the match award. Close behind him was Murphy who had by far his best game since coming back from injury. Blindside may be unfamiliar to him, but he looked well suited to it as he carried hard, made his tackles and generally did the dirty work required from the position really well. Lastly, van der Flier was able to continue the excellent form from the 'A' team. He's not like most of the recent backrow graduates in that ball carrying isn't his big strength, he's actually more of an old-fashioned openside. But he fitted in just fine with his excellent work-rate and support play. All three played well individually and they also combined well as a unit and fans will look forward to seeing more of them.

So Leinster are in the top four, but to stay there they need to improve their away form, which has been desperate this season in the league. Of six away games, Leinster have lost four, drawn one and only recorded one win away to bottom of the league Zebre. In general Leinster's away form over the last few seasons has been quite strong, but it badly needs to improve with a trip to Ulster and four trips to Wales coming up in the second half of the season.

The first of those Welsh trips is tomorrow away to Cardiff on the artificial pitch in the Arms Park. Despite their signings at the start of the season, Cardiff have pretty much remained their usual, hopeless selves. They're currently in ninth place in the table, with only four wins to their name. They're also ten points outside the top six, where they would need to finish to guarantee a return to the top European tournament next season. Their recent form has improved somewhat though, winning two from the last three in their Christmas derbies against the Scarlets and the Dragons.

Their coach Mark Hammett has named quite a strong looking side. Their skipper Gethin Jenkins makes his 150th appearance for the club in a front row alongside Kristian Dacey and a seemingly rejuvenated Adam Jones. Lou Reed and Filo Paulo form the second row and the backrow features three players who are all natural opensides in Josh Turnbull, Sam Warburton and Josh Navidi. The breakdown battle should be interesting to say the least.

In the backs Gareth Anscombe starts at ten and the Kiwi import will be looking to show some form to justify the hype that accompanied his arrival. He's partnered by the spiky Tavis Knoyle, another player with a point to prove. Cory Allen and Gavin Evans form a big, physical midfield and Lions winger Alex Cuthbert returns to form a potent back three with two Argentinean internationals in Joaquin Tuculet and Lucas Amorosino.

For Leinster there are eleven changes to the team that started last weekend. Two of that young back row, Jordi Murphy and Jack Conan, retain their places but Conan takes the number eight jersey this time to accommodate the return of Dominic Ryan at blindside. Tom Denton and Kane Douglas form a new second row pairing while there's good news in the front row with the return from injury of Martin Moore. He forms a starting front row with Sean Cronin and Michael Bent, whose continuing health is very important considering how short of looseheads Leinster are at the moment with Jack McGrath suspended. To illustrate the point, Jamie Hagan provides the loosehead cover on the bench despite predominately being a tighthead.

In the backs Rob Kearney is back at full back to captain the side alongside wingers Fergus McFadden and Dave Kearney who both retain their spots from last day. Ben Te'o makes his second Leinster start in the centre alongside Noel Reid, who has recovered from illness and Jimmy Gopperth and Luke McGrath come in at halfback. It's not a bad Leinster team as such but certainly one with a few questions over it.

Cardiff will fancy their chances on a pitch they know best. Leinster have been training on the all-weather pitch in Donnybrook to get up to speed and if last season's helter-skelter game is anything to go by, expect a few tries on the quick surface.

Hopefully Leinster will have enough to get their second away win of the season and secure their spot in the top four.

Team Lineups

Cardiff Blues

Leinster Rugby
Teams Joaquin Tuculet 15 Rob Kearney (C)
Alex Cuthbert 14 Fergus McFadden
Cory Allen 13 Ben Te'o
Gavin Evans 12 Noel Reid
Lucas Amorosino 11 Dave Kearney
Gareth Anscombe 10 Jimmy Gopperth
Tavis Knoyle 9 Luke McGrath

Gethin Jenkins (C) 1 Michael Bent
Kristian Dacey 2 Sean Cronin
Adam Jones 3 Marty Moore
Lou Reed 4 Tom Denton
Filo Paulo 5 Kane Douglas
Josh Turnbull6 Dominic Ryan
Sam Warburton 7 Jordi Murphy
Josh Navidi8 Jack Conan

Replacements Matthew Rees 16 Richardt Strauss
Sam Hobbs 17 Jamie Hagan
Taufa'ao Filise 18 Tadhg Furlong
Jarrad Hoeata 19 Mike McCarthy
Manoa Vosawai 20
Josh van der Flier
Lloyd Williams 21 Eoin Reddan
Gareth Davies 22 Ian Madigan
Adam Thomas 23 Darragh Fanning

Not Considered
due to Injury

Cian Healy,
Edward Byrne,
Sean O'Brien,
Rhys Ruddock,
Kevin McLaughlin,
Dan Leavy,
Shane Jennings,
Jamie Heaslip
Officials Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU, 66th competition game),
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens, Rhys Thomas (both WRU),
Citing Commissioner: John Charles (WRU),
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2015-01-09