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Cardiff Blues vs Leinster Rugby
Cardiff City Stadium,
Saturday, 19th February 2011, 18:30

Television: Live RTE 2

After getting back into action last week with a scrappy win against Aironi, Leinster travel to face Cardiff in what could be a crucial match for their prospects of finishing in the top two. Leinster's win over Aironi, coupled with the Scarlets defeat away to Connacht, meant that they are now in second place in the table. At the moment Cardiff are in third place, two points behind Leinster, but crucially they also have a game in hand. If they can beat Leinster on Saturday then they'd fancy themselves to stay in that position, especially as they're out of Europe and can concentrate on the league.

Admittedly, Cardiff have a tougher run-in than Leinster with six away trips, so even if they do win, it's not a forgone conclusion by any means. However, Leinster won't want to give them any encouragement and will want to extend a winning run of seven games going back to the Clermont home match. They'll also want to continue an unbeaten head to head record against Cardiff going back seven matches to May 2007. Last season Leinster travelled to the Cardiff City Stadium with an under-strength team and won 29-20. Fergus McFadden kicked a last minute penalty from the halfway line to deny them a losing bonus point. This turned out to be vital as Cardiff only missed out on the semi-finals by that one point. So Cardiff certainly won't be short of motivation to beat Leinster tomorrow.

Cardiff started the season very well; in fact they won five out of their first six Magners League games, their only defeat was to Leinster at the RDS. Since then their form has been fairly inconsistent and they've had disappointing home losses to the Scarlets and Ulster. They lost both legs of a double-header with Northampton that effectively ended their Heineken Cup campaign. They've won their last three Magners League games however and though they have injury problems they'll be confident they can keep their run going.

Cardiff have named a team that shows four changes, all in the pack, from the side that beat Glasgow away last week. John Yapp, Gareth Williams, Deiniol Jones and Xavier Rush all come into the line-up. Yapp comes in at loosehead prop, which means Tau Filise switches over to his more usual role on the tighthead with Scott Andrews dropping to the bench. Williams replaces the injured T Rhys Thomas at hooker. Jones comes in for the suspended Bryn Griffiths in the second row alongside captain Paul Tito. Rush rotates with Ma'ama Molitika at number eight in a backrow with Andries Pretorius and Martyn Williams.

It's a strong and experienced pack but the backline has a more unfamiliar look to it. They've been badly affected by the suspension of Richie Rees and injuries to Ben Blair, Tom Shanklin and Casey Laulala. They've been forced to call on two academy players in scrum-half Tom Slater and full-back Dan Fish, who was very impressive in last season's under-20's Six Nations championship. Fly-half Ceri Sweeney and centres Gavin Evans and Dafydd Hewitt make up a more experienced midfield and Richard Mustoe and Tom James offer pace and power on the wings. Overall it's a very decent team, but not as strong as it could have been.

Leinster have made five changes to the team that started last week, as well as several positional switches. Leo Cullen has returned from his 30 seconds of Ireland duty last week to captain the team from the second row and win his 150th Leinster cap. The rest of the front row is unchanged but Cullen's return means the backrow is shuffled about. Kevin McLaughlin moves from second row to blindside flanker, which in turn means Rhys Ruddock moves to make his first start at number eight in place of Stephen Keogh. Dominic Ryan stays in the number seven jersey and will have his hands full against the wily Martyn Williams.

Ian McKinley and Isaac Boss come in for Ian Madigan and Paul O'Donohue at halfback. Eoin Reddan is back from Ireland duty but has to make do with a place on the bench. McKinley makes his first start since December 2009 and it's great to see him back after he recovered from a horrific eye injury picked up in a club match last season. He's been on fine form for St. Marys in the AIL and went well when he came on last week against Aironi so he'll be looking forward to showing what he can do this week. Another academy player, Eamonn Sheridan, makes his first Leinster start at inside centre alongside Eoin O'Malley who switches back to outside centre in place of Brendan Macken who broke his collarbone last week. Sheridan is a huge man who'll offer a big physical presence in midfield. The final change is Niall Morris getting a deserved start on the wing after scoring tries in his last two appearances off the bench. Leinster fans will be delighted to see Stan Wright back on the bench after recovering from the achilles injury which he suffered at the start of the season.

So it's an interesting Leinster team but one with a better mix of youth and experience than the one that started last week. It's going to be tough though especially with an Italian referee in Carlo Damasco and the 'yellow card kid' James Jones on the touchline. Cardiff will be favourites but Leinster have gone there and won unexpectedly before and hopefully they can do it again.

Team Lineups

Cardiff Blues

Leinster Rugby
Teams Dan Fish
15 Isa Nacewa
Richard Mustoe
14 Andrew Conway
Gavin Evans
13 Eoin O'Malley
Dafydd Hewitt
12 Eamonn Sheridan
Tom James
11 Niall Morris
Ceri Sweeney
10 Ian McKinley
Tom Slater
9 Isaac Boss

John Yapp
1 Heinke van der Merwe
Gareth Williams
2 Richardt Strauss
Tau Filise
3 Clint Newland
Deinoil Jones
4 Leo Cullen (C)
Paul Tito (C)
5 Devin Toner
Andries Pretorius
6 Kevin McLaughlin
Martyn Williams
7 Dominic Ryan
Xavier Rush
8 Rhys Ruddock

Replacements Rhys Williams
16 Jason Harris-Wright
Sam Hobbs
17 Jack McGrath
Scott Andrews
18 Stan Wright
Ben White
19 Nathan Hines
Ma'ama Molitika
20 Stephen Keogh
Rhys Downes
21 Eoin Reddan
Dan Parks
22 Ian Madigan
James Loxton
23 Michael Keating

Not Considered
due to Injury
T Rhys Thomas,
Ben Blair,
Gethin Jenkins,
Michael Paterson,
Lloyd Williams,
Tom Shanklin,
Casey Laulala,
Tom Davies

Rob Kearney,
Brendan Macken,
Shane Horgan,
Shaun Berne
Officials Referee: Carlo Damasco (FIR)
Assistant Referees: James Jones, Phil Connett (WRU)
TMO: Tony Rowlands (WRU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-02-18