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Leinster Rugby vs Cardiff Blues
RDS Showground, Dublin
Friday, 27th October 2012, 18:30

Television: Live RTE2

Leinster did what they needed to against the Scarlets last week in that they got a vital win to keep themselves alive in the group. However considering the way they started in the first half, they may be a little disappointed that they didn't push on and win by an even bigger score and possibly even bag a bonus point too. The travelling Leinster fans were certainly pleased by the physical intensity their team showed as Leinster bullied the Scarlets at the breakdown and in the set-piece. The defence was also generally good too, aside from one highly uncharacteristic mistake from the greatest defensive outside centre the game has ever seen.

The Leinster attack still isn't operating at the top of its game though and once again we saw too many knock-ons close to the line. The Scarlets were poor, with Rhys Priestland once again unravelling on the back of a poor place-kicking display. Yet from 14-0 up, Leinster still let them get back within four points at one stage and it was more through their own sloppiness than anything the Scarlets did. Eventually they used their dominance in the scrum to nervously see the game out, but it should never have come to that.

Still, with the win in the bag, Leinster would have hoped that plucky Exeter might have done them a favour against Clermont. The Devon club certainly took it to the French and led 12-10 at half-time. However, the intensity of back to back matches against two giants of the European game eventually got to Exeter and Clermont over-powered them in the second half, running in six tries for the second week running. They now stand at the top of the pool with a maximum ten points, two ahead of Leinster.

There is no doubt Clermont are clearly up for it this season and they'll be dying for some payback when the double-header rolls round in December. Leinster coach Joe Schmidt knows his team are playing far from their best but considering the amount of injuries and their poor form, he'll be pleased to still be in touching distance of his old club. But it's back to the league for Schmidt and Leinster for the next two weeks, before a fortnight off for the November Internationals. Next Sunday they travel to the Ospreys but tomorrow they welcome the Cardiff Blues.

Cardiff's off season was dominated by the financial uncertainty surrounding the club. Several senior players either left (Gethin Jenkins, Dan Parks, Ben Blair and John Yapp are just a few of the many who did a runner) or retired (Paul Tito, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush). It all contributed to a pretty gloomy summer for the Blues. However, Cardiff didn't start the season too badly, winning three of their first four games. But then they took a hammering at home to Ulster and this seemed to destroy any fragile confidence that they had going. That defeat began a four game losing streak, including both their Heineken Cup games. Their defeat away to Sale Sharks in Round One was particularly painful. They had lead 27-12 against a winless team at the bottom of the English Premiership but somehow contrived to lose the match 34-33. Last week they put in a slightly better effort against all-star Toulon but still ended up losing 22-14. After two defeats their European season is all but done so they will need to concentrate on the league to get something from this season and improve their current position of seventh in the table.

They've named a strong team with only four changes from the team that started against Toulon, two in the pack and two in the backline. Dafydd Hewitt starts at outside centre in place of the injured Gavin Evans and former Dragon Jason Tovey replaces Ceri Sweeney at outside half. In the pack, Scott Andrews starts at tighthead prop in place of Benoit Bourrust and James Down replaces Lou Reed in the second row. This means Cardiff can name their high-profile internationals like Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert and Jamie Roberts in the backline and Sam Warburton and Bradley Davies in the pack. Former Leinster academy player Robin Copeland is named on the bench. All in all, it's a fairly decent side, certainly the strongest Cardiff have sent over to Dublin for a league match in years.

Leinster had more depressing news on the injury front during the week as it was revealed Rob Kearney would miss the double-header against Clermont because of an operation on a back injury. Isa Nacewa also broke a bone in his hand, which will see him miss the next month's action but at least he should be back for the Clermont games. That these two injuries came just when there appeared to be light at the end of the injury tunnel is a big blow for the squad.

At least Rob's brother, Dave, is back fit to be named on the right wing in a side that's now an all-Irish starting line-up, considering South-African born hooker Richardt Strauss has now been called into the Ireland squad for the forthcoming internationals. Kearney and Strauss coming in are just two of five changes from the team that started against the Scarlets. Kearney's inclusion on the right wing sees Fergus McFadden switch over the left wing in place of the injured Nacewa. Other than that, the backline is unchanged.

In the pack Strauss comes in at hooker for Sean Cronin and Devin Toner comes into the second row in place of Damian Browne. In the backrow Shane Jennings is finally given a well deserved rest after starting in every game so far this season. It means Jordi Murphy finally gets a start after being on the bench for every match so far. Murphy impressed when sprung from the bench against Munster so he deserves his shot. On the bench Rhys Ruddock is back from injury and he should feature at some point.

Last season Cardiff travelled twice to Dublin and were heavily beaten both times. With Cardiff having named a strong team this time, Leinster may not be able to put up such a big score. The battle at the breakdown will be crucial as Cardiff have named two classy open-sides in Welsh skipper Warburton and highly rated younger Josh Navidi. It will be a big ask for a relative novice at openside like Murphy but he's sure to get help from the likes of Heaslip and Strauss on that front. It will be tougher than normal but Leinster still should have enough to win what should hopefully be an entertaining match.

Team Lineups

Leinster Rugby
Cardiff Blues
Teams Ian Madigan
15 Leigh Halfpenny
David Kearney
14 Alex Cuthbert
Brian O'Driscoll
13 Dafydd Hewitt
Gordon D'Arcy
12 Jamie Roberts
Fergus McFadden 11 Tom James
Jonathan Sexton
10 Jason Tovey
Eoin Reddan
9 Lloyd Williams

Cian Healy
1 Tafa'ao Filise
Richardt Strauss
2 Marc Breeze
Mike Ross
3 Scott Andrews
Leo Cullen (C)
4 Bradley Davies
Devin Toner
5 James Down
Kevin McLaughlin 6 Josh Navidi
Jordi Murphy
7 Sam Warburton
Jamie Heaslip
8 Andries Pretorius (C)

Replacements Sean Cronin 16 Rhys Williams
Heinke van der Merwe 17 Nathan Trevett
Jamie Hagan
18 Campese Ma'afu
Damian Browne
19 Lou Reed
Rhys Ruddock
20 Robin Copeland
Isaac Boss
21 Lewis Jones
Brendan Macken
22 Ceri Sweeney
Fionn Carr
23 Tom Williams
Not considered
due to injury
Luke Fitzgerald,
Sean O'Brien,
Eoin O'Malley,
Mark Flanagan,
Conor Gilsenan,
Dominic Ryan,
Aaron Dundon,
David Doyle,
Luke McGrath,
Quinn Roux,
Rob Kearney,
Darren Hudson,
Isa Nacewa,
Leo Auva'a
  Harry Robinson,
Benoit Bourrust,
Jake Cooper,
Chris Czekaj,
Ryan Harford,
Michael Paterson,
Rhys Patchell,
Sam Hobbs,
Tom Davies,
Rory Watts-Jones,
Gavin Evans
Match Officials Referee: Ian Davies (WRU),
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Ollie Hodges (both IRFU),
4th Official: Gary Conway (Leinster Rugby Referees),
5th Oficial: Robbie O'Flynn (Leinster Rugby Referees),
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

by Jim O'Connor, © 2012-10-26