This has been the best September for Leinster since 2004/05. Of course that’s awesome. But what were saying through all those rotten Septembers in between again? Oh yeah - “nothing is won in September”. There’s no chance that works both ways, right?
Seriously though...our first four rounds in this season’s Guinness Pro12 campaign have definitely seen a net positive. Three wins out of four. Three league points better off than corresponding matches against the same opposition last season. A spot in the top four. Playing some adventurous rugby. Uncovering some more promising talent who look ready for the highest level.
Yes, there are some drawbacks, like serious lineout yips and dwindling in form for the final half-hour. Maybe a tackle or two missed more than we’d like. But certainly nothing that can’t be fixed especially when you consider we’ve a coaching ticket that is in the process of re-adjusting to new circumstances.
So despite the fact that it is now October and our schedule throughout the months shows no sign of let up (Cardiff-a, Munster-h, Castres-h, Montpellier-a, Connacht-h), you can be sure each of our opponents will be just as wary about facing us as we are of them.
This Leinster lineup has a “Top 14 away” look about it when you compare it to last week, ie changes made on the assumption that a losing bonus point would be considered a decent result. Johnny Sexton continues in the 10 jumper and assumes the captain’s role but there are several changes around him, most notably at 13. As much as I do like continuity in selection particularly in the centre, judging by our schedule this was the perfect opportunity to both give Rory O’Loughlin a much-deserved start after an impressive pre-season and allow Garry Ringrose a break.
Jack McGrath and Mike Ross will be there to steady the scrum but not for the first time this season all eyes will be on the back row battle. Cardiff will be putting a lot of faith in their breakdown brigade with Warburton, Jenkins and Nick Williams starting and Josh Navidi on the bench. But while the Welsh fans may not be too familiar with the names Leavy and van der Flier, I have a feeling they will do come full time on Saturday, and it’s not as though Messrs Ruddock and the rarely-seen-on-bench Heaslip are exactly slouches.
In my Ospreys writeup I said how I felt Toner, Mick Kearney and Molony was our ideal trio of locks for the immediate future...perhaps that was a bit unfair on Ian Nagle who did his shoulder in the final preseason game against Bath and finally gets his chance to play this weekend, best of luck to him.
Unfortunately we can’t discount the referee being a factor. Not that I have anything in particular against Dudley Phillips, it’s just the whole idea of what I call “bias-phobia”, ie when the Pro12 appoints an official from the visiting team’s union, can often result in several head-scratching decisions.
Bookies are going for a home win by 4 points. Using the template that Leinster have shown this season so far, I’d say that’s about right though just to be a little contrary I’ll say three. But if we can both take the match to the home side AND fix what has ailed us over the past few weeks (our strong bench of forwards could help here) then there is definitely more than one match point to be taken from the Welsh capital. Here’s hoping that’s what happens. JLP
Cardiff Blues: Matthew Morgan; Blaine Scully, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James; Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams;
Gethin Jenkins (capt), Kristian Dacey, Taufa'ao Filise, George Earle, Josh Turnbull, Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams.
Replacements: Matthew Rees, Rhys Gill, Scott Andrews, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Tomos Williams, Steve Shingler, Dan Fish
Guinness Pro12 2016/17 Round 5
Saturday, October 1, 2016
At BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park, 7.35pm. Live on S4C and TG4
Referee: Dudley Phillips (IRFU, 64th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Frank Murphy (IRFU), Ian Davies (WRU)
Citing Commissioner: Gwyn Bowden (WRU)
TMO: Neil Paterson (SRU)