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Leinster Rugby vs Cardiff Blues

Royal Dublin Society Showground, Dublin
Saturday 31st October 2009, 18:30

Television: Live Setanta Sports 1, Repeated on SetentaIreland 21:00

Leinster face Cardiff in the RDS tomorrow in their final match for five weeks before they take a break for the Autumn Internationals. They have a five-three win/loss ratio from the eight matches they've played so far the season, not great but not terrible either considering the disruption caused by having certain players unavailable at different times. A win tomorrow will make it a six-three record, which will leave the Leinster management relatively satisfied going into their autumnal hiatus.

However a defeat would make it a five-four record, which would cast a shadow over November for the management. What's more, a defeat would also mean that they would have lost two home games in a row for the first time under Michael Chieka's watch. So there will be no shortage of motivation to win and Leinster's cause has no doubt been helped by the situation regarding the release of International players by the respective countries.

With Ireland not playing for another fortnight, Ireland coach Declan Kidney has given his blessing for all of Leinster's Irish internationals to play. However, Warren Gatland has insisted that all ten Cardiff members of the Welsh squad be rested, even Martyn Williams and Gethin Jenkins who are only back from injury. Cardiff are also hampered by a number of injuries to the likes of Robin Sowden Taylor, Casey Laulala and Ma'ma Molitika. Despite these setbacks, they still have the strength in depth to name a starting side with ten internationals with another two on the bench. It's definitely a weakened Cardiff team, but Leinster would be foolish to take them lightly.

Former All Black Ben Blair is their big danger man at full back, one of the deadliest place-kickers in the league. Richard Mustoe and Chris Czekaj are on the wings and Gavin Evans and Gareth Thomas make up an experienced midfield partnership. Australian international Sam Norton-Knight joined from New South Wales Waratahs in the summer and he starts at out-half partnering Richie Rees.

Xavier Rush, another former All Black, is a major influence in the team and he starts at number eight alongside Ben White and Scott Morgan in the backrow. Another Kiwi, Paul Tito, captains the team from the second row alongside Welsh international Deniol Jones. Tongan international Taufa'ao Filise starts at tighthead prop with the experienced Darren Morris on the loosehead. Youngster Rhys Williams, who makes his debut at hooker, completes the team.

Cardiff have had a poor enough start to the season, considering they were many people's tips to win the Magners League. They lost their first three games before finally beating Llanelli at home to register their first victory. They beat a weakened Harlequins in the Heineken Cup before losing to Sale away, a game they would have targeted for a win. However last week, they produced a fine performance to beat the Ospreys.

Last week wasn't such a good one for Leinster though as they went down to a determined Ulster side in a rainy, windswept Ravenhill. Ulster were well worth their win and they played the conditions superbly, but Leinster will still see the game as one that got away. When they had the wind behind them, their tactics were naïve and they didn't take the scores when they were on offer. Ulster won the battle at the breakdown and too often Leinster ball carriers were left isolated. Also the intensity in the tackle was down from the norm. There was a major plus point though in the form of Brian O'Driscoll who ignored the conditions to play a blinder, constantly creating with the ball in hand.

This week, O'Driscoll hands the captaincy back to the returning Leo Cullen who is part of a completely different front five to the one that started last week. He partners Malcolm O'Kelly rotating with Nathan Hines who drops to the bench. In the front row Cian Healy, John Fogarty and CJ van der Linde come in for Ronnie McCormack, Bernard Jackman and Mike Ross. Fogarty will be delighted with his call up to the Ireland squad and van der Linde will be raring to go in his first start in nine months. The backrow of Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip is retained from last week.

There are more changes in the backline as half-backs Eoin Reddan and Jonny Sexton return in place of Chris Keane and Shaun Berne. O'Driscoll and Gordon D'Arcy start again in the centre. D'Arcy will know he's in need of a big game after a recent run of indifferent form. It's all change in the back three as Isa Nacewa moves to full-back in place of Rob Kearney who picked up a minor knock in training. After scoring a typically opportunistic try last week, Luke Fitzgerald comes in on the left wing and Shane Horgan replaces Girvan Dempsey on the right wing. Dempsey takes his place on a very strong bench that includes Jackman, Ross and Hines.

It is a very strong Leinster side and they will be big favourites, but they need to focus on the win first and foremost. If they don't give Cardiff the respect they deserve and go chasing bonus points too early, then it's a sure-fire recipe for disaster which we've seen before. Cardiff will relish the under-dog tag and throw everything at Leinster, having nothing to lose. Leinster need to forget about impressing the national management and just go out and do a professional job. With the proper attitude, a good win is more than attainable and Michael Chieka can go in his autumn break a happy bunny.

by Jim O'Connor, © 2009-10-30