Friday, January 09, 2015

Preview : Cardiff Blues v Leinster


Many Leinster & Ireland fans would be forgiven for forgetting our 34-22 bonus-point win in Cardiff last February, seeing how two days later our Triple Crown & Grand Slam dreams were shattered at Twickenham, but I have a feeling Jack Conan managed to hold on to the occasion in his memory banks.

Not only was he man-of-the-match that Thursday evening on his debut, but he has gone on to make the very most of his appearances since then culminating in more match gongs plus Leinster's Player of the Month award for December.

So he certainly won't hold too many fears on returning to the Arms Park tomorrow, and you know what, neither should Leinster in my view.

Yes, it is true that we have struggled for form this season and whatever about our position in Europe, I'm not so sure if we can afford to sacrifice this trip to the Welsh capital if we are to retain any realistic hope of a top-two finish.

It is also true that despite the fact Cardiff have hardly been setting the Pro 12 alight this season, the fact that their lineup "out-Lions" us by four to one plus the home advantage on their plastic surface has to give them plenty of hope.

But going up against that hope we have to step outside the pervading Leinster bubble of doom and gloom.  We are still the reigning champions and what's more we are still the bookies' favourites to claim a third title in a row.  It's high time we (and more importantly the squad itself) started believing it, whatever about our gameplan.

And it has to be said there's a lot of promise in this Leinster side.  Luke McGrath has another chance to show he belongs ahead of Isaac Boss in our pecking order.  In my eyes he won't do that by doing anything fancy - just provide the ball that crucial fraction quicker.

Outside him is Jimmy Gopperth.  I wish him all the best for his future with Wasps and I have no doubt he will give Leinster 100% between now and the end of the season.  Whether or not he is due to start in Europe remains to be seen...for sure we can't read too much into his selection here after two successive starts from Madigan who's minutes need to be closely monitored.

From an offensive standpoint this is close to the kind of backline Matt O'Connor will have been dying to put on the park.  Noel Reid had a stormer in his last outing with the ball while hopefully it will be second time lucky for Ben Te'o to show us what he can do at 13.  And with a gainline-busting back three like McFadden and the Kearney brothers behind them, much hay can be made with decent front foot ball.

When it comes to producing that ball, our young back row will certainly be put to the test by the likes of Warburton opposite but Conan, Dom & Jordi have all shown they can rise to the occasion, plus we have Sean Cronin who is not too shabby in the ball-carrying department.

As for the concerns I would have....our centre pairing of Reid and Te'o may have promise with the ball but they have just around 15 minutes  of game time together so you have to assume Cardiff will seek to test their defensive capabilities from the word go.

Then we have our set-pieces.  Great to see Marty Moore back in action but he needs to hit the ground running against Jenkins while of course Michael Bent will no doubt have his hands full with Mr A "Puppy Dog Eyes" Jones.  Our set-pieces have been steady in recent weeks but hopefully that's not because Sean Cronin hasn't been starting...both Leinster and Ireland need him to show he has worked on his hooking & dart-throwing.

But overall I'm inclined to feel positive about this match, even more so than the turf accountants who say we'll win by 5...I'd go to between 7 and 9 but only with a late score to seal the deal.

Here's to an entertaining round of Pro12 matches, for which Connacht v Edinburgh tonight could very well be the most intriguing...who thought we'd ever be saying that!

#COYBIB #JLP 

CARDIFF BLUES : 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Cory Allen, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Lucas Amorosino, 10 Gareth Anscombe, 9 Tavis Knoyle; 
1 Gethin Jenkins (c), 2 Kristian Dacey, 3 Adam Jones, 4 Lou Reed, 5 Filo Paulo, 6 Josh Turnbull, 7 Sam Warburton, 8 Josh Navidi
Replacements: 16 Matthew Rees, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Taufa'ao Filise, 19 Jarrad Hoeata, 20 Manoa Vosawai, 21 Lloyd Williams, 22 Gareth Davies, 23 Adam Thomas

Guinness PRO12 - Round 13
At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 2.40pm 
Live on Sky Sports
Referee: Neil Paterson (SRU, 66th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens, Rhys Thomas (both WRU)
Citing Commissioner: John Charles (WRU)
TMO: Tim Hayes (WRU)
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