It will be make or break time for Leinster at the Arms Park on Friday night as they seek a bonus point win which will guarantee them their second league title in six seasons.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, May 11
CARDIFF BLUES (3rd) v LEINSTER (1st), Arms Park, 7.10pm (live BBC Wales/Setanta Sports Ireland)
Team News: Leinster have named an unchanged team for one of the biggest matches in their recent history. Coach Michael Cheika has kept faith with the side that scored a bonus point win over Border Reivers last Saturday.
That means retirees Reggie Corrigan and Will Green will make their final appearances for Leinster from the start, after being named in the front row alongside hooker Bernard Jackman.
The rest of the pack remains unchanged from the one that started the Border Reivers game, with Trevor Hogan partnering Malcolm O’Kelly in the second row and a now familiar back row of Stephen Keogh, Keith Gleeson and Magners League joint-top try scorer Jamie Heaslip.
Ireland scrum half Guy Easterby also starts his final game for the province before retiring. In the backline, the competition’s second top points scorer Felipe Contepomi – the Argentinian out-half is eight points behind Glasgow’s Dan Parks – captains the side.
Two late decisions will be made on the replacements bench at prop and outside back and will be finalised before kick-off. Leinster are expected to be boosted by a sizeable travelling support for Friday’s must-win clash.
Hosts Cardiff, meanwhile, are without the considerable services of international duo Tom Shanklin (back) and Martyn Williams (foot) for their final outing of the season.
The Blues can still take the title if they win and Border Reivers beat the second-placed Ospreys at home in Galashiels on Saturday.
Blues boss Dai Young has made a number of alterations to the side that lost to Llanelli last time out. In the backs, Marc Stcherbina replaces Shanklin, who suffered a minor back injury against the Scarlets. Nicky Robinson also comes in at out-half.
In the forwards, Gareth Williams, Robert Sidoli and Mark Lewis have been drafted in, while Robin Sowden-Taylor replaces Martyn Williams who suffered bruising to his foot after Saturday’s match.
Cardiff: Ben Blair; Rhys Williams, Jamie Robinson, Marc Stcherbina, Chris Czekaj; Nick Robinson, Mike Phillips; Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Williams, Gary Powell, Deiniol Jones, Robert Sidoli, Mark Lewis, Robin Sowden-Taylor, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements: Scott Roberts, Rhys Thomas, Scott Morgan, Rhys Shellard, Wayne Evans, Nick Macleod, Tom James.
Leinster: Girvan Dempsey; Rob Kearney, Shane Horgan, Gordon D’Arcy, Denis Hickie; Felipe Contepomi (capt), Guy Easterby; Reggie Corrigan, Bernard Jackman, Will Green, Trevor Hogan, Malcolm O’Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Keith Gleeson, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Stan Wright/Cian Healy, Brian Blaney, Owen Finegan, Cameron Jowitt, Chris Whitaker, Christian Warner, Luke Fitzgerald/Kieran Lewis.
Referee: Malcolm Changleng (Scotland)
Touch Judges: Phil Fear, Gwyn Morris (both Wales)
Team League Statistics: Cardiff: Top Points Scorer – Ben Blair 157 (5 tries, 24 conversions and 28 penalty goals); Top Try Scorer – Tom Shanklin 6
Leinster: Top Points Scorer – Felipe Contepomi 181 (4 tries, 34 conversions and 31 penalty goals); Top Try Scorer – Jamie Heaslip 7
Previous League Meetings:
October 10, 2003 – Cardiff 22 Leinster 3, Arms Park
March 5, 2004 – Leinster 18 Cardiff 22, Donnybrook
September 5, 2004 – Leinster 9 Cardiff 9, Donnybrook
December 18, 2004 – Cardiff 6 Leinster 15, Arms Park
October 15, 2005 – Leinster 34 Cardiff 15, RDS
May 14, 2006 – Cardiff 40 Leinster 31, Millennium Stadium
September 16, 2006 – Leinster 16 Cardiff 9, Donnybrook
– Cardiff Blues have the chance to equal Leinster’s record for success home league wins with a 15th consecutive victory on home soil. The Blues have been beaten just once at home in the league since March 2005 – they lost 27-13 to Edinburgh on November 6, 2005
– Leinster have won only one of their last six away matches in all competitions since mid-December – they beat the Dragons 23-22 in the league on April 13. The win was also Leinster’s only success in their last seven visits to Wales
– A bonus point win for Leinster at the Arms Park would secure them their first league crown since 2002
– Leinster beat Cardiff 16-9 at Donnybrook in September and are attempting a season’s league ‘double over the Blues for the first time. The province have won on their last two visits to the Arms Park in all competitions