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Leinster Rugby vs Cardiff Blues
RDS Showground
Friday, 10 January, 2009, 19:30

Television: Live - Setanta Sports 1, Setanta Sports 2
Season Ticket: Magners League Six - Picture of Mick Quinn

The next two weeks represents the critical stage of Leinster's season. By the afternoon of Sunday the 25th they could be looking forward to a Heineken Cup Quarter-final while enjoying a position in the top two of the Magners League table. On the other hand, should results go another way, they could be out of Europe at the group stages for the second season running and stuck in the middle of the Magners table. The results of the next three matches against Cardiff, Wasps and Edinburgh will not only define their season, they could also define the Leinster career of coach Michael Cheika!

Since losing to Castres before Christmas, Leinster have responded with two hard-fought wins over Ulster and Connacht. Both games were marked by Leinster finishing strongly with good hard-running rugby to secure the victories. However on both occasions the obvious question was why they seemed to wait until the game was nearly lost before they started employing these tactics. It's a question for both the team and the coaching team and it badly needs answering and quickly. Because time is running out to get things right!

Tomorrow's opponents Cardiff have had a mixed season. Their form in Europe has been excellent with four wins from four in a group featuring Biarritz and Gloucester. In stark contrast, their form in the Magners has been quite poor and they start the match in the unfamiliar position of second last in the table. However such is the competitiveness of the league this season they're only nine points behind third placed Leinster so a decent run of wins could quickly improve their position.

Coach Dai Young has named a strong squad for tomorrow night's game. The only really significant absentees are flanker Martyn Williams and full-back Ben Blair. Blair's dead-eyed place-kicking could well be missed and wing Leigh Halfpenny moves to full-back to cover. Despite his tender years Halfpenny has come from nowhere to make a major impression with Wales this season and he has pace to burn. Leinster will need to be careful about any loose kicking as he's clearly been picked there to counter-attack. They have named an all-international three-quarter line of Tom James, Jamie Robinson, Tom Shanklin and Gareth Thomas, which is full of pace and power. Nick Robinson will take over the place-kicking and he forms an experienced half-back partnership with Jason Spice.

In the back-row Andy Powell has been one of the stories of the Welsh season. For years he was seen as little more than a decent, jobbing player who wandered around a number of clubs. This season though, he has exploded into the national consciousness with a series of barn-storming displays that propelled him into the Welsh squad and into many people's Lions squad. He forms a backrow with the hugely consistent Maama Molitika and Robin Sowden Taylor, who's a fine deputy for Martyn Williams. Captain Paul Tito leads the team from the second row alongside young Welsh tyro Bradley Davies. The front row of Taufa'au Filise, Rhys Thomas and John Yapp complete the side.

Young also has the luxury of naming a very strong bench, with the likes of Xavier Rush, Gethin Jenkins and Ceri Sweeney. Jamie Roberts also returns after fracturing his skull only six weeks ago in the Wales - Australia match.

Leinster have also named an extremely strong bench and the first name that jumps out is that of Ollie Le Roux. The immensely popular South African has answered an SOS call to provide cover at hooker, due to the unavailability of Bernard Jackman and John Fogarty. The RDS crowd will be hoping that he makes an appearance, as he was very much a crowd favourite last season. The rest of the bench is impressive too with Malcolm O'Kelly, Cian Healy, Luke Fitzgerald and Girvan Dempsey all able to make a considerable impact.

This will keep the pressure on the first fifteen, which shows eight changes from the side that started against Connacht. In the backs Brian O'Driscoll and Shane Horgan return in place of Fitzgerald and Simon Keogh, who is somewhat unfortunate to drop out of the squad altogether. After last week's strong showing Rob Kearney starts again at full-back and Gordon D'Arcy shifts over to the left wing. Isa Nacewa gets another chance to prove his credentials at out-half with Felipe Contepomi renewing his centre partnership with O'Driscoll who looked sharp when he came on last week after a couple of week's rest.

However the pack is almost unrecognisable with only Rocky Elsom and Stanley Wright retained from last week. Wright moves over to the loosehead with CJ van der Linde returning to the tight side after recovering from a calf injury. Brian Blaney takes over hooking duties from the suspended Fogarty. In the second row, captain Leo Cullen makes a welcome return from injury and he partners Devin Toner as both starting locks from last week, Cameron Jowitt and Trevor Hogan, drop out of the squad. Rocky Elsom is the only forward to start in the same shirt as last week and he'll be looking to continue his excellent recent form. He partners the returning Jamie Heaslip and Sean O'Brien in the back row. With Shane Jennings suspended for three weeks, O'Brien has a major chance to lay down a marker for the number seven jersey in the vital weeks ahead.

It's going to be a tough match, as it always is against Cardiff, but if Leinster can start well and get into their rhythm early, then they should have enough to get the win to keep up the pressure on the leaders. A good win and a great performance will also put them in the perfect frame of mind for Twickenham next week.

Time to deliver lads!!

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Cardiff Blues
Teams Rob Kearney
15 Leigh Halfpenny
Shane Horgan
14 Tom James
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Jamie Robinson
Felipe Contepomi
12 Tom Shanklin
Gordon D'Arcy 11 Gareth Thomas
Isa Nacewa
10 Nick Robinson
Chris Whitaker
9 Jason Spice

Stan Wright
1 Andy Powell
Brian Blaney
2 Robin Sowden Taylor
CJ van dar Linde
3 Maama Molitika
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Paul Tito (C)
Devin Toner
5 Bradley Davies
Rocky Elsom
6 Taufa'au Filise
Sean O'Brien
7 T Rhys Jones
Jamie Heaslip
8 John Yapp

Replacements Ollie le Roux
16 Gethin Jenkins
Cian Healy
17 Gareth Williams
Malcolm O'Kelly
18 Scott Morgan
Stephen Keogh
19 Xavier Rush
Chris Keane
20 Richie Rees
Luke Fitzgerald
21 Ceri Sweeney
Girvan Dempsey
22 Jamie Roberts

Not considered
due to injury

Bernard Jackman (Knee)
Stephen Knoop (Neck)


Officials

Referee: Pater Allan (SRU)
Assistant Referees: M. Black (IRFU), J. Peake (IRFU)
4th Official: Barry O'Keefe (ARLB)
5th Official: James Fegan (ARLB)
TMO: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-01-09

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