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Leinster Rugby vs Cardiff Blues
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 2nd December 2011, 20:05

Television: Live TG4

Leinster take on Cardiff in the RDS tomorrow hoping to extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to nine games. They haven't lost since the shock defeat to Glasgow back in September and last week they successfully avoided a potential landmine by winning away in Treviso. After losing there last season Joe Schmidt would have been delighted with the win, especially after sending out a team with ten changes from the previous week.

The performance itself was a bit up and down and after getting off to a spectacular start they found themselves dragged into a dogfight. However Leinster showed great character to get the lead back and see the game out. They scored three fine tries and it was great to see how instrumental young players like Ian Madigan, Eoin O'Malley and Fionn Carr were in the win.

Big Leo Auva'a had another storming game from number eight, again showing what a smart signing he's been. The Leinster scrum took a bit of a battering from a tough Treviso outfit but experiences like that will be crucial in the development of young Jamie Hagan. Overall though Schmidt will be delighted to have kept the pressure on the leaders the Ospreys, who themselves had a fine away win in Connacht.

This week Leinster take on another big Welsh club in the Cardiff Blues. Cardiff have been big underachievers in the last few seasons with only victories in the EDF cup and Amlin Cup to their name. Considering their pedigree and the quality of players they have, their performance in the league have been particularly poor. Since finishing runners up to Leinster back in the 2007-08 season, they've failed to finish in the top four in the last three seasons. A lack of consistency has been their curse. At times they look like world-beaters, at other times they look like chumps.

Their long-time coach David Young moved on to Wasps in the summer and was replaced by his assistants Gareth Baber and Justin Burnell as interim appointments. It was expected that a big-name coach would be appointed in time but with money tight at the club, it was confirmed this week that Baber and Burnell would continue to be in charge until the end of the season. Their cause was done no harm by Cardiff's excellent form in the Heineken Cup. Victories away to Racing Metro and at home to London Irish has given the Blues their best start in years and they'll fancy their chances against Edinburgh in the crucial double-header starting next week.

However their form in the league has been blighted by their same old inconsistency. After winning their first two games of the season, they then went on a three-game losing run including an embarrassing 34-13 hammering at home to Glasgow. Since then they've bounced back with wins away to Aironi and Connacht and last week they hammered Aironi 38-0 in the return game at home. They're currently in fifth place in the table, but crucially they have a game in hand after their match against the Dragons a few weeks back was postponed. If they can win that game, it would put them right in it amongst the leaders but they'll be looking a win tomorrow night that would do the job just as well.

They will have to do it without the services of Leigh Halfpenny, Jamie Roberts, Lloyd Williams, Gethin Jenkins, Scott Andrews, Alex Cuthbert, Bradley Davis and captain Sam Warburton for the match. They're all in the Wales squad that takes on Australia on Saturday. However it would be foolish to write Cardiff off on this basis especially as so much of their leadership comes from foreign players such as Paul Tito, Xavier Rush, Maama Molitika and Casey Laulala.

Cardiff have still named a pretty decent team despite all the absentees. Experienced winger Richard Mustoe is the only non-international in the backline. He makes up a back three with Chris Czekaj and Tom James who are both big, quick men. The hugely influential Laulala is in the centre with Gavin Evans. The former All Black is one to be watched because when he plays well, Cardiff generally play well. Ceri Sweeney and Richie Rees are a hugely experienced half-back pairing.

Xavier Rush is back from injury to take his place at number eight alongside Tongan international Maama Molitika and young openside Josh Navidi. With his dreadlocks Navidi is a noticeable figure and the Welsh under-20 captain looks a real prospect. Paul Tito captains the team from the second row and he partners academy player Cory Hill. Australian Ryan Tyrrell is named at hooker with Tongan international Taufaao Filise and Welsh international John Yapp lining up either side of him at prop. Given the circumstances, it's quite a strong line-up.

For Leinster it's another case of shuffling the squad options as Shmidt has made another nine changes (including one positional switch) to the team that started last week. After celebrating the birth of his third child last weekend Isa Nacewa is back to start at full back. David Kearney is back after recovering from injury and he starts on the right wing with Fionn Carr retaining his place on the left wing. Fergus McFadden moves from the right wing to inside centre while Eoin O'Malley holds the number 13 jersey for the third week running. Ian Madigan gets another run at out-half with Isaac Boss rotating in at scrum-half.

In the pack Cian Healy is in again at loosehead but this week he'll start with Richardt Strauss and Nathan White alongside him. There's a completely new second row in captain Leo Cullen and Steven Sykes. Sykes has had an injury-disrupted start to his Leinster career and he'll be anxious to put down a marker to show the home crowd what he can do. There's only one change in the back row as Sean O'Brien comes in to partner Rhys Ruddock and Shane Jennings. Interestingly O'Brien plays at number eight in place of Leo Auva'a, who drops to a bench which is particularly strong as it includes Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe, Mike Ross, Eoin Reddan, Jonathan Sexton and Rob Kearney. If the game is tight going into the last twenty minutes Leinster definitely have the cavalry to call on, especially when compared to Cardiff's fairly callow bench.

When Cardiff click they are a seriously dangerous team, indeed they're the top try-scorers in the league so far this season. Traditionally the games between the two teams have been niggly affairs, so don't be surprised if there's one or two flare-ups. After kicking six from six last weekend, it will be interesting to see if Fergus McFadden keeps the job or if it will be handed back to Isa Nacewa. It's a nice problem to have anyway.

Cardiff will make things tough like they always do, but with only one win in Dublin nine years ago, they won't travel with a lot of confidence. Once Leinster keep their cool, they should be able to get a vital win. If they can and our old friends Munster can beat the Ospreys on Saturday, then Leinster can hopefully head back into their Heineken Cup fixtures against Bath with the confidence of being league leaders. It's a nice bit of motivation to have and hopefully it will drive Leinster on to a win.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby

Cardiff Blues
Teams Isa Nacewa 15 Chris Czekaj
David Kearney
14 Richard Mustoe
Eoin O'Malley 13 Casey Laulala
Fergus McFadden 12 Gavin Evans
Fionn Carr
11 Tom James
Ian Madigan
10 Ceri Sweeney
Isaac Boss
9 Richie Rees

Cian Healy
1 John Yapp
Richardt Strauss
2 Ryan Tyrrell
Nathan White
3 Taufaao Filise
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Cory Hill
Stephen Sykes
5 Paul Tito (C)
Rhys Ruddock 6 Maama Molitika
Shane Jennings
7 Josh Navidi
Sean O'Brien 8 Xavier Rush

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Marc Breeze
Heinke van der Merwe 17 Nathan Trevett
Mike Ross 18 Sam Hobbs
Damian Browne 19 Macauley Cook
Leo Auva'a 20 Michael Paterson
Eoin Reddan 21 Lewis Jones
Jonathan Sexton 22 Gareth Davies
Rob Kearney 23 Dafydd Hewitt

Not Considered
due to Injury
Mat Berquist,
Eamonn Sheridan,
Shane Horgan,
Simon Shawe,
Brian O'Driscoll,
Dominic Ryan,
Jordi Murphy,
Andrew Conway

Andries Pretorius,
Deiniol Jones,
Martyn Williams,
Gavin Henson,
Kristian Dacey
Officials Referee: Andrew Macpherson (SRU)
Assistant Referees: Leo Colgan, Peter Roche (both IRFU)
4th Official: Dermot Blake (Leinster Rugby Referees)
5th Official: Arthur Lynch (Leinster Rugby Referees)
TMO: Seamus Flannery (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2011-12-01