Leinster were in free-scoring form when they hosted the Cardiff Blues last month, but a much tighter affair is expected when the RaboDirect PRO12 rivals clash at the City Stadium on Saturday night.
RABODIRECT PRO12: Saturday, January 7
CARDIFF BLUES (5th) v LEINSTER (1st), Cardiff City Stadium, 6.15pm (live TG4/S4C)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Cardiff Blues in Saturday evening’s RaboDirect PRO12 encounter at the City Stadium has been named.
Number 8 Jamie Heaslip leads a team which includes 12 Ireland internationals for the trip to the Welsh capital this weekend.
Following on from the recent interprovincial derby victories over Ulster and Connacht over the festive season, Kevin McLaughlin links up with Sean O’Brien and Heaslip in the back row.
Cian Healy, who sat out the win over Connacht last time out, will return to front row duty alongside Sean Cronin and Mike Ross.
Eoin Reddan partners Jonathan Sexton at half-back, while the vastly-experienced Gordon D’Arcy returns to the starting back-line to partner Fergus McFadden in the centre.
Isa Nacewa, the scorer of all of Leinster’s 15 points in Galway, has been named on the replacements bench alongside the likes of Isaac Boss and Rhys Ruddock.
Meanwhile, Gavin Henson will don the number 15 jersey when making his first RaboDirect PRO12 appearance for Cardiff against a non-Welsh side.
Henson had 80-minute runouts against the Newport Gwent Dragons and the Ospreys during the festive season, and will form a back-three combination with Leigh Halfpenny and the returning Tom James.
James comes in as one of two changes in the Blues’ back-line, replacing Alex Cuthbert who has been ruled out with a minor groin injury. Dan Parks starts at out-half instead of Ceri Sweeney.
In the forwards Sam Warburton has recovered from a knock on the ankle and captains the side at openside flanker, with Josh Navidi moving to the bench.
Ma’ama Molitika starts at blindside with Michael Paterson moving to the second row in place of the injured Paul Tito. Paterson will be joined in the engime room by late inclusion Macauley Cook who comes in for the injury Bradley Davies (sore back).
Gethin Jenkins also starts for the Blues in the front row alongside hooker Marc Breeze and Scott Andrews, who featured against the Ospreys on New Year’s Day.
CARDIFF BLUES: Gavin Henson; Leigh Halfpenny, Casey Laulala, Gavin Evans, Tom James; Dan Parks, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins, Marc Breeze, Scott Andrews, Macauley Cook, Michael Paterson, Ma’ama Molitika, Sam Warburton (capt), Xavier Rush.
Replacements: Rhys Williams, John Yapp, Sam Hobbs, Matthew Screech, Josh Navidi, Richie Rees, Ceri Sweeney, Richard Mustoe.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; David Kearney, Fergus McFadden, Gordon D’Arcy, Andrew Conway; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Sean Cronin, Mike Ross, Damian Browne, Devin Toner, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip (capt).
Replacements: Aaron Dundon, Heinke van der Merwe, Jamie Hagan, Rhys Ruddock, Leo Auva’a, Isaac Boss, Isa Nacewa, Fionn Carr.
Referee: Marius Mitrea (Italy)
Assistant Referees: Neil Hennessy, Phil Fear (both Wales)
Television Match Official: Neil Ballard (Wales)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Cardiff Blues to win: 11/10; Draw: 20/1; Leinster to win: 8/11
Pre-Match Quotes: Jono Gibbes (Leinster) – “You’d expect a pretty experienced nucleus to get the job done in terms of fronting up, being competitive and putting in place what Cardiff are trying to do – better than they did when they were at the RDS.
“They’ve got a nucleus that has played together for the Blues for quite a few years. They can get a bit disjointed at times but gel pretty well when they put it all back together.
“We’ve had two weeks where we’ve been missing some personnel and it’s hard to gauge how close we are (to top form). We’ve mixed and matched a little bit.
“There have been some good things and some things that definitely need attention. It almost feels like we haven’t had a lot of flow.
“That is what’s important about the Cardiff game – we need to fit back in as many guys as we can who’ve missed out on the past few weeks and try to gel a little bit together.
“I think that will be really important for trying to get some combos and momentum going. Cardiff will be trying to do the same and it will be a really tough match.”
Justin Burnell (Cardiff Blues) – “Our first match at the Cardiff City Stadium in 2012 couldn’t be much tougher than against Leinster. They are the Heineken Cup champions and to me the standard bearers of northern Hemisphere rugby.
“They are a star-studded outfit, with a fantastic mixture and when I watched their game against Bath it seems that every time they had the ball they looked threatening.
“They score a lot of tries, as do we, so there are two teams who try to play an expansive game. It should be an entertaining encounter.
“I think that Leinster are setting the standards of how rugby should be played so we are looking forward to taking them on.”
Top Scorers – 2011/12 RaboDirect PRO12: Cardiff Blues – Points: Ceri Sweeney 62; Tries: Alex Cuthbert 5; Leinster – Points: Isa Nacewa 85; Tries: Ian Madigan 5
RECENT LEAGUE MEETINGS:
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
Saturday, February 19, 2011 – Cardiff Blues 11 Leinster 3, Cardiff City Stadium
Friday, December 2, 2011 – Leinster 52 Cardiff Blues 9, the RDS
– The Cardiff Blues’ last seven matches have all been won by the home side on the day
– The Blues have won their last four home games at the City Stadium, but have only won one of their last four matches against the Irish provinces at the venue
– Leinster have won their last seven encounters in all competitions, since their 16-16 draw in Montpellier in the Heineken Cup on November 12
– The Leinstermen, who remain top of the RaboDirect PRO12 table, have won their last nine games in the league
– Cardiff’s only win over Leinster in their last nine meetings since May 2007 was an 11-3 success in this equivalent fixture at the City Stadium last season