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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Pro-14 Conference B Round 1
Cardiff Arms Park, Cardiff
Friday, 31th August 2018, 19:35

TV: Live on Eir Sports / TG4

Well, how do you follow that?

Leinster finally did the double last season, becoming the first Irish side to do so. After grinding out a win against Racing in Bilbao they clinched the Pro14 in style with a dominant and entertaining win over Scarlets in the Aviva Stadium.

However it's hard to be massively confident of Leinster retaining either of their trophies this season. The summer has shown that for the IRFU this season is one big warm-up for the World Cup which kicks off in 55 weeks time. Joey Carbery was happy biding his time at Leinster until Joe Schmidt and David Nucifora got into his ear and pressured him into moving to Munster for the good of his Ireland place. You can of course see how this makes total sense from Ireland's point of view to spread the playing resources out, but it leaves Leinster without a potential marquee player of the future that they had brought through their own system.

Leinster can't compete with the riches of the French and English clubs but what got them back to the top of Europe last season was their much envied academy system which produces stars like Carbery, Dan Leavy, Jordan Larmour and James Ryan. However the more Nucifora and Schmidt seek to carve up Leinster's talent pool to spread it around the weaker provinces, you wonder how long they can remain competitive with the big spending clubs.

Carbery wasn't the only departure, Jordi Murphy has gone north to Ulster and his value may only be truly appreciated now that he's gone. Injuries forced Jamie Heaslip's and Richardt Strauss's retirement but at least the totemic Isa Nacewa went out lifting a trophy in his last act as a Leinster player. Of the coaches Girvan Dempsey went off to Bath but there was a surprising but welcome replacement announced in Felipe Contepomi who'll hopefully bring a touch of mercurial madness to the Cullen/Lancaster ticket.

Leinster warmed up for tomorrow's season opener with a decent win away to Montauban before suffering a hammering at home to Newcastle. Though pre-season friendlies are of little importance, it did bring to mind the meek capitulations suffered by the 'B' team away to Connacht and Ospreys late last season. With most of the Ireland internationals being brought back in very slowly this season, it's up to this group of players to maintain competitiveness and they have a tough start with two fixtures in Wales, Scarlets next Saturday and Cardiff tomorrow night.

Cardiff were also in Bilbao last season of course winning the Challenge Cup on the Friday night after beating Gloucester in a gripping final. Their Pro14 form was improved but still not good enough to break into the play-off spots in Conference B so they'll be aiming for a top three place at the very least. They've lost their highly rated coach Danny Wilson to Scotland though and he's been replaced by Australian John Mulvihill who once coached Navan RFC. He's not able to name their big summer signing American international Manu Samoa yet, but he's named a decent side. It's a mix of experienced pros like Nick Williams and Rey Lee-Lo plus a number of promising youngsters like Jarrod Evans, Kristian Dacey and Ellis Jenkins who captains the team and is the heir apparent to the sadly retired Sam Warburton.

For Leinster Rhys Ruddock captains the team wearing the number seven jersey as all Leinster's openside options are currently injured. The very promising Caelan Doris makes his first start at number eight with Josh Murphy on the blindside. The front row consists of Peter Dooley, James Tracy and Michael Bent, with Ross Molony and Scott Fardy in the second row.

In the half-backs, Luke McGrath is partnered by Ross Byrne who wins his 50th cap for the province. New signing Joe Tomane is joined in the centre by Rory O'Loughlin while the back three consists of Dave Kearney, Adam Byrne and last season's top try scorer Barry Daly.

It's a decent Leinster side but the front five will really need to show up for them to have a chance of coming away with a win.

Team Lineups

Cardiff Blues

Leinster Rugby
Teams Matthew Morgan 15 Dave Kearney
Jason Harries 14 Adam Byrne
Willis Halaholo 13 Rory O'Loughlin
Rey Lee-Lo 12 Joe Tomane
Owen Lane 11 Barry Daly
Jarrod Evans 10 Ross Byrne
Lloyd Williams 9 Luke McGrath

Brad Thyer 1 Peter Dooley
Kristian Dacey 2 James Tracy
Dimitri Arhip 3 Michael Bent
Seb Davies 4 Ross Molony
Rory Thornton 5 Scott Fardy
Josh Turnbull 6 Josh Murphy
Ellis Jenkins (C) 7 Rhys Ruddock (C)
Nick Williams 8 Caelan Doris

Replacements Rhys Gill 16 Bryan Byrne
Ethan Lewis 17 Ed Byrne
Scott Andrews 18 Andrew Porter
George Earle 19 Mick Kearney
Olly Robinson 20
Max Deegan
Tomos Williams 21 Jamison Gibson-Park
Steve Shingler 22 Noel Reid
Garyn Smith 23 Fergus McFadden

Not Considered
due to Injury

Josh van der Flier,
Sean O'Brien,
Ciaran Frawley,
Will Connors,
Garry Ringrose,
Dan Leavy
Officials Referee: Nigel Owens (WRU),
Assistant Referees: Ben Whitehouse, Gwyn Morris (both WRU)
TMO: Jon Mason (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2018-08-30