Friday, September 26, 2014

Preview : Leinster v Cardiff Blues


CARDIFF BLUES : 15 Rhys Patchell, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 George Watkins, 10 Gareth Davies, 9 Lewis Jones; 
1 Gethin Jenkins, 2 Kristian Dacey, 3 Adam Jones, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 Chris Dicomidis, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Sam Warburton, 8 Josh Navidi (c)
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Taufa'ao Filise, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21Tavis Knoyle, 22 Adam Thomas, 23 Dan Fish
At RDS Arena, 7.35pm Live on TG4 

Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 19th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Mark Patton, Will O'Connor (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Denis Templeton (IRFU)
TMO: John Carvill (IRFU)

I have tried to be careful with my Matt O'Connor criticism so far this season, because I don't want to stray too close to those Leinster fans I call "Anti-Matters" who simply want him gone regardless of what happens on the scoreboard.

But two defeats out of three haven't made that process easy!

Still though, going into tonight's visit of the Cardiff Blues I am clinging on to my theory that at least we can expect a good outing from our own boys in blue at the RDS.

And it's not as though the Welsh region tends to do incredible things on their travels themselves, something we know all too well here in Dublin.  Almost a year ago to the day we put them away 34-20 and that was a close contest compared to the season before.   

But when we look at the lineup they're putting out this evening, we'd be mad to assume we're going to see more of the same.  No side that includes names like Sam Warburton, Adam Jones, Gethin Jenkins and Alex Cuthbert can ever be taken lightly.

We have to assume the ongoing crisis in Welsh rugby won't help their cause, however.  And yes, it is very much ongoing.  Sure, the WRU and RRW signed their poorly-named "Participation Agreement" before the season started but that couldn't possibly put an end to things worth squabbling about like the 16-game limit and the also-poorly-named "Judgement Day".

Yet while all that happens on the Welsh side of things, we can only control what we do and the Leinster matchday 23 you see above will be under pressure to produce an 80 minute display similar to that which we saw against the Scarlets two weeks ago.

One name that stands out on the Leinster teamsheet is that of Kane Douglas.  It would be unfair to expect him to put in a stunning performance straight off the plane, but it's at least a measure of the confidence O'Connor has in him that he can throw him straight into the starting lineup.  Here's hoping he's fully on board with Devin Toner's lineout calls because that is a set-piece we can ill afford to go wrong tonight.

In my writeup of the Connacht match I outlined my deep concerns with our scrum.  It's an area where we shouldn't have problems given the talent we have, particularly in the front row, but we do; and tonight we have the Eoin Reddan-Sean Cronin feed tandem that has been the cause of most of my worries. 

Also, with both Cian Healy and Jack McGrath unavailable, this means it is up to Michael Bent to hold up the "put-in" side of the front row and he's only up against Adam Jones so what could possibly go wrong there?

Meanwhile on the other side it's great to see Martin Moore returning to the starting lineup but we really need him to hit the ground running against Jenkins.  I know scrum steadiness can often have a bearing on a result anyway, but for tonight's match it's even more so the case.

The breakdown should be a fierce contest and our back row of Ruddock, Ryan and Heaslip will have their work cut out against  the likes of Warburton & Navidi.

In the back-line we have Gordon D'Arcy starting at 13.  He came on for Brendan Macken right after the superb Marmion try in Galway...it's not so much that I'm blaming Macken for the score, rather that having "Darce outside" from the start should improve Madigan's coverage and thus make the crucial centre channel more water-tight.

But having said that...it's not as though the channel was particularly leaky last week - if you concede just the ten points away from home you should always win more than you lose.

So will we be able to find the points this week to stay ahead for good?  I reckon so.  Hopefully, for tonight's sake anyway, my "Jeckyll & Hyde" theory is right and the shackles will be taken off of our offence.  

We can probably expect the box-kicks from Reddan and the conservatism of Gopperth we have come to know and whinge about, but I'm counting on certain individuals, especially Messrs Madigan & Kearney, to be looking to provide the leadership that may not have been there last week.  

And if we are to make an impression with the ball tonight, it is imperative that we do so early.  A decent margin has to be established in the first half an hour otherwise we will be relying on a largely inexperienced bench in the latter stages.  (Though on the subject of the bench, I really hope Luke McGrath sees more action than the 6 minutes he did last week)

So as you can see, there is an element of pressure on Leinster tonight in several different areas and victory is by no means certain.  I'm still backing us to win however, and possibly even with a try bonus if Cardiff's dislike of Dublin continues.  That should keep the Anti-Matters away.  For the time being.  JLP

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