Leinster could make it four Magners League wins in succession when they take on the Cardiff Blues at the RDS on Saturday night. Boosted by team captain Leo Cullen’s return to fitness, the province will want to put in an encouraging performance ahead of next weekend’s Heineken Cup clash with London Wasps at Twickenham.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Friday, January 10
LEINSTER v CARDIFF BLUES, The RDS, 7.30pm (live Setanta Sports 1/S4C)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Cardiff Blues in Saturday night’s Magners League game at the RDS has been named.
Leo Cullen returns from injury to captain the Leinster side and is included in a strong pack which also sees the return of CJ Van Der Linde from injury.
Cullen partners Devin Toner in the second row, while Sean O’Brien will start in the back row alongside Rocky Elsom and Jamie Heaslip.
In the back-line, Brian O’Driscoll is back to partner Felipe Contepomi at centre, with Shane Horgan starting on the right wing, Gordon D’Arcy moving to the left and Rob Kearney continuing at full-back.
Ireland trio Girvan Dempsey, Luke Fitzgerald and Malcolm O’Kelly have been included on the Leinster replacements bench.
Almost 14,000 tickets have been sold for Leinster’s clash with Cardiff at the RDS. Tickets are still on sale from the usual outlets and can be purchased at the RDS from 5pm (on matchday).
Meanwhile, Gareth Williams will become only the fifth player to play 100 games for the Cardiff Blues if he comes off the bench when the Blues take on Magners League champions Leinster.
Williams was one of the first players to sign for the newly formed Cardiff Blues in the summer of 2003, having previously played for UWIC, Bridgend and Pontypridd and also the Sydney club, Gordon.
The match against Leinster also sees the return of three Cardiff Blues players from injury. Xavier Rush, Jamie Roberts and Richie Rees are all on the bench for the Blues in their first match of 2009.
Back rower Rush sustained an injury to his knee during summer training which required an operation. Despite having some game time against Connacht in late September, he has not played since then with the knee injury having not fully recovered until now.
Scrum half Rees injured his shoulder playing against Glasgow in late November but is now fit for bench duty. Roberts, a strong-running centre, is also back having recovered from a fractured skull playing for Wales against Australia in November.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Shane Horgan, Brian O’Driscoll, Felipe Contepomi, Gordon D’Arcy; Isa Nacewa, Chris Whitaker; Stan Wright, Brian Blaney, CJ Van Der Linde, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Rocky Elsom, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Ollie Le Roux, Cian Healy, Malcolm O’Kelly, Stephen Keogh, Chris Keane, Luke Fitzgerald, Girvan Dempsey.
CARDIFF BLUES: Leigh Halfpenny; Tom James, Jamie Robinson, Tom Shanklin, Gareth Thomas; Nick Robinson, Jason Spice; John Yapp, Rhys Thomas, Taufa’au Filise, Bradley Davies, Paul Tito, Ma’ama Molitika, Robin Sowden Taylor (capt), Andy Powell.
Replacements: Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Williams, Scott Morgan, Xavier Rush, Richie Rees, Ceri Sweeney, Jamie Roberts.
Referee: Peter Allan (Scotland)
Assistant Referees: Michael Black, Jonathan Peake (both Ireland)
Television Match Official: Peter Ferguson (Ireland)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 2/5; Draw: 20/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 15/8
Say What: Jonno Gibbes (Leinster) – “To have a guy of Leo’s experience back is huge, also his personality and the way he conducts himself in the team will give the guys a lift.
“Bernard Jackman’s not too far away as well and he’s a real leader so to have two guys like that in the mix is really positive.
“We’ve had two positive wins (over Ulster and Connacht), directly attributed to tidying up our tackle ball and our improvement in the contact area.
“Cardiff’s Heineken Cup form has been pretty sharp. (Ma’ama) Molitika and (Andy) Powell provide them with a lot of go-forward.
“It’s always easy picking out who the main ball-carriers are but it’s another thing to try and stop them behind the advantage line.
“We’ve got to be up for the challenge and not concede any inches on the gain line.”
Dai Young (Cardiff Blues) – “We want to march up the table. There is a lot of rugby to be played and we certainly aren’t in a position where we can say we are going to win the Magners League.
“We are in a good position in the other competitions – the Heineken Cup and the EDF Energy Cup – and what we have to keep doing is build momentum and keep winning.
“We want to be up there and as high in the Magners League as we can. But that is not saying we are devaluing the league in our mindset.
“The league is very important to us and as an all-round competition, it has definitely improved. The players used to feel that there was a big step up to the Heineken Cup.
“Now there isn’t a huge amount of difference in the physicality between the Magners League and Europe.
“The squads have been built up, like Leinster’s. Even with one or two injuries, we can all put out highly competitive and physical teams out on the field.
“We all have areas – like our passing and catching skills – which we want to improve, but the intensity is right up there with anything in Europe.”
Top Scorers: 2008/09 Magners League – Points: Leinster: Felipe Contepomi 93; Cardiff Blues: Ben Blair 53; Tries: Leinster: Luke Fitzgerald 5; Cardiff Blues: Leigh Halfpenny, Ma’ama Molitika, Ceri Sweeney 3 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Sunday, May 14, 2006 – Cardiff Blues 40 Leinster 31, Millennium Stadium
Saturday, September 16, 2006 – Leinster 16 Cardiff Blues 9, Donnybrook
Friday, May 11, 2007 – Cardiff Blues 27 Leinster 11, Arms Park
Friday, September 28, 2007 – Cardiff Blues 19 Leinster 30, Arms Park
Saturday, February 16, 2008 – Leinster 24 Cardiff Blues 17, The RDS
Saturday, September 6, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 16 Leinster 16, Arms Park
– Leinster have won their last three matches in the Magners League since their 15-12 loss to Glasgow at Firhill on October 24
– Leinster have lost just once at the RDS since October 2007 – a 18-0 defeat by Munster in the Magners League on September 28 last
– Just one Welsh team has ever won at the RDS – the Scarlets claimed a 52-23 victory on October 5, 2007
– The Cardiff Blues have won only one of their last four matches in the Magners – a 21-19 success at the Newport Gwent Dragons on December 26. The Blues have not won outside Wales in the Magners League this season
– The Blues have not beaten Leinster since a 27-11 win at the Arms Park on May 11, 2007. Their only previous victory in Dublin was a 22-18 triumph at Donnybrook in the league on March 5, 2004