Leinster have their hands on a home semi-final spot at the moment, but they will have to improve on the display they put in against Aironi if they are to come away from Cardiff with the match points.
MAGNERS LEAGUE: Saturday, February 19
CARDIFF BLUES (3rd) v LEINSTER (2nd), Cardiff City Stadium, 6.30pm (live RTE Two/S4C)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Cardiff Blues at Cardiff City Stadium in Saturday’s Magners League clash has been named.
Fit-again prop Stan Wright returns to the squad as a replacement, while team captain Leo Cullen is set to make a landmark appearance for Leinster.
Cullen will enter the history books when he becomes only the fifth player in the province’s history to reach the 150-cap mark.
In achieving this milestone, the Newmountkennedy lock follows Shane Horgan (198 caps), Malcolm O’Kelly (188), Gordon D’Arcy (183) and Girvan Dempsey (175) in Leinster’s all-time roll of honour.
Cullen leads the team and is one of five Ireland internationals named in the panel for the meeting of the league’s second and third-placed teams.
Isaac Boss links up with Ian McKinley at half-back, with former St. Patrick’s Classical School Navan centre Eamonn Sheridan making his second senior appearance – and his first start for the province – alongside Eoin O’Malley.
Isa Nacewa, Andrew Conway and Niall Morris, who was a try scorer in the 21-16 victory over Aironi last time out, make up the back-three. Kevin McLaughlin starts in the back row alongside Dominic Ryan and Rhys Ruddock.
Cook Islands international Wright is part of a strong replacements bench which also includes Ireland scrum half Eoin Reddan and Scotland’s Nathan Hines.
Speaking ahead of the game, young winger Andrew Conway said: “To be honest, we weren’t too happy with the performance against Aironi. We felt that the forwards gave us a good amount of ball and we didn’t do too much with it, so I think we really have to look to pick things up a gear for this week against Cardiff.
“Cardiff are just behind us in the table now – and I think they have a game in hand as well – so we really know we have to put it to them this week.
“They have a really strong back-three with a few of the lads in the Welsh squad, a good back row and they’ll be pretty much strong all around the park, so it’s a really big game.
“It’s been really enjoyable this season getting a few more opportunities so hopefully in the next few weeks, with a few more international guys coming back and the group that’s in at the moment, we can live up to expectations.
“Hopefully by the time all the internationals come back, we have them in a better situation in the league than they were when they left.”
Meanwhile, the Cardiff Blues will field a team showing four changes to the one that beat Glasgow Warriors 26-15 last weekend.
The Welsh region’s backs remain unchanged, but in the forwards Xavier Rush, Deiniol Jones and Gareth Williams all start, and are joined by John Yapp who is back from Six Nations duty.
Scott Andrews and Dan Parks also return and are on the bench. The Blues are without lock Bryn Griffiths, who has been suspended for three weeks, and Richie Rees, who is also suspended.
Cardiff’s current injury list includes the likes of Rhys Thomas (cheek), Ben Blair (knee), Gethin Jenkins (toe), Tom Shanklin (knee) and Casey Laulala (hamstring).
CARDIFF BLUES: Dan Fish; Richard Mustoe, Gavin Evans, Dafydd Hewitt, Tom James; Ceri Sweeney, Tom Slater; John Yapp, Gareth Williams, Taufa’ao Filise, Deiniol Jones, Paul Tito (capt), Andries Pretorius, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush.
Replacements: Rhys Williams, Sam Hobbs, Scott Andrews, Ben White, Ma’ama Molitika, Rhys Downes, Dan Parks, James Loxton.
LEINSTER: Isa Nacewa; Andrew Conway, Eoin O’Malley, Eamonn Sheridan, Niall Morris; Ian McKinley, Isaac Boss; Heinke van der Merwe, Richardt Strauss, Clint Newland, Leo Cullen (capt), Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Dominic Ryan, Rhys Ruddock.
Replacements: Jason Harris-Wright, Jack McGrath, Stan Wright, Nathan Hines, Stephen Keogh, Eoin Reddan, Ian Madigan, Michael Keating.
Referee: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
Assistant Referees: James Jones, Phil Connett (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Tony Rowlands (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 4/11; Draw: 22/1; Leinster to win: 2/1
Pre-Match Quotes: Jono Gibbes (Leinster) – “When you look at where we’re placed in the Magners League table now, it’s a crucial game for us and I think the squad will have a point to prove.
“Everyone was disappointed with the Aironi game – the positive was that we got the win, but there’s plenty to work on and I’m sure we’ll be looking to up our standard this week.
“Cardiff have certainly got a deep squad and although yes, they’ve got some guys that will be rested, you’ve still got the likes of Martyn Williams who is a massively experienced player. Xavier Rush is back from injury now and there’s Tau Filise up front.
“They provide them with a bit of steel, a bit of direction and a lot of leadership. So, Cardiff away is always a challenge but I think that last year looking back on our Cardiff away match, it was at the same time of year and it was a really positive experience for the players that were playing.
“I think that’s one of the exciting things about this time of year; the squads are affected by international duties but the guys that are there are really enthusiastic and keen to take their opportunity.
“It’s obviously disappointing for Brendan Macken who broke his collarbone which will sideline him for a little while, but there’s a good mixture of young guys and a few old heads keeping it together as well.
“One of the pleasing thing from the coaches’ point of view is that the guys who have come in have had a real go at it and grabbed their opportunity really.”
David Young (Cardiff Blues) – “Leinster won the Heineken Cup two seasons ago, were runners-up of the Magners League last season and they have kicked on again this year.
“They lose very few games when their internationals are away, so we know this is a big ask. They are a quality squad and you don’t win the Heineken Cup with a poor squad.
“This is a massive game for us and a game that we are going to have to play a lot better than we have during the last month or so.
“The result (a 25-16 win) up in Glasgow was the most important thing. We all want a good performance but the priority is the result at this time of the year.”
Top Scorers – 2010/11 Magners League: Cardiff Blues – Points: Ceri Sweeney 83; Tries: Tom James, Rhys Thomas 4 each; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 124; Tries: Isa Nacewa, Shane Horgan 4 each
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
Saturday, February 16, 2008 – Leinster 24 Cardiff Blues 17, the RDS
Saturday, September 6, 2008 – Cardiff Blues 16 Leinster 16, Arms Park
Saturday, January 10, 2009 – Leinster 21 Cardiff Blues 20, the RDS
Saturday, October 31, 2009 – Leinster 23 Cardiff Blues 6, the RDS
Sunday, March 7, 2010 – Cardiff Blues 20 Leinster 29, Cardiff City Stadium
Saturday, September 11, 2010 – Leinster 34 Cardiff Blues 23, the RDS
– The Cardiff Blues have won their last three games in the Magners League since a 16-9 reversal at Munster on December 4
– Cardiff’s only win over an Irish side so far this season was at home to Connacht on September 30
– Leinster have won their last seven matches in all competitions. Their only Magners League defeat since round 4 was a 19-15 loss at the Ospreys on November 28
– Leinster are unbeaten in their seven clashes with the Blues since 2007