Friday, September 08, 2017

Preview : Leinster v Cardiff Blues




The score was a whopping 62-14 to Leinster over the Border Reivers (who since relocated to Brigadoon) when Devin Toner made his debut back in January 2006.  For the record, one of Leinster's try-scorers on that Friday night in Donnybrook was a youngster also in his rookie season, namely Robert Kearney (Jamie Heaslip also started and the Borders hooker was Ross Ford).

Back then it was unusual for youngsters to see a lot of playing time in their 'rookie' season - Rob was an exception but Dev only saw senior action once more.  He hasn't done too badly since then however...just the 50 test caps to go with the 200th he earns for Leinster tonight.

Ironically the first time we harped on him here was in a 16-16 draw in Cardiff almost exactly 9 years ago :
The only two positions at which Leinster were not outplayed on the evening were at numbers 4 and 5, where Toner and O’Kelly respectively put in accomplished performances.
Truth be told in those early days I thought he hadn't fully, for the want of a better phrase, "grown in" to his height to use it to his advantage, but over the years he has definitely done so and I'm delighted to see the province go out of their way to make sure this impressive milestone is honoured.

Back to tonight's action, it is of course great to be back at the RDS for some Leinster rugby...no matter how the previous campaign went, the possibilities always seem endless as a new one begins, and we saw plenty last week against the Dragons to suggest the boys in blue had been well prepared in preseason for this crucial opening block of Pro14 matches.

Now of course we need them to back that up with another positive performance and result, and given the Blues fell at home to Edinburgh last week, it would appear we have every chance of doing that.  But as always there must be caution - earlier this year in a period when we were posting big wins over all kinds of opposition, while we did also finish on top against Cardiff, we made the going very tough for ourselves along the way.

One very good sign about this lineup is its similarity to last week's.  11 to 15, all the same.  Second row, exactly the same.  Luke McGrath comes in at scrum half, James Tracy starts at hooker, and as for the back row, well, there's a lot of quality there to keep happy so there's no surprise in seeing Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan starting.

Yet again I'll be most interested in how our centres get on...I heaped praise on Isa in particular last week but Rory O'Loughlin formed a good duo alongside him and they need more of the same tonight.  Also if the rain stays away I'd like to see more of Ross Byrne's kick passing game in action - the surroundings will definitely suit him.

In the forwards, reports I've seen on Cardiff's opener with Embra suggest their scrum was the best thing about them so we will need to be solid on our set-pieces though naturally that's always the case.  We also know Josh Navidi in particular can be a pesky customer around the breakdown.

On the subject of referees, I am once again baffled by the selection of nationalities.  In the past for a match like this we'd generally see a Welsh ref with all others being Irish.  This time, they are simply all Irish...even though in all six of the other matches have completely neutral officials.  If the officiating teams from tonight's Pro14 matches in Dublin and Edinburgh swapped, we'd have neutrality throughout, and I know transport costs are a factor, but I'm just pointing this out as it is a bugbear of mine.

Anyway...the bookies are very confident that Leinster will continue their winning start and in convincing fashion by 19 points.  My prediction as usual is going to be more conservative, about 11-13, but I definitely agree this squad can put in a more satisfying night's work, particularly in front of the home faithful.

Let's see how they get on - by the way if you're a season ticket holder don't forget to arrive to the RDS early to collect your freebies...might see you in the queue! JLP

PS - We plan to do a 'liveblog' of the action throughout...it's on telly anyway but it's a good way for us to take notes for our writeup [yes, I know, nerd alert, guilty as charged!] so by all means drop by to follow the action with us if you can.

#COYBIB

Cardiff Blues: R Williams, A Cuthbert, G Smith, R Lee-Lo, T James; S Shingler, L Williams;
R Gill, M Rees, K Assiratti, S Davies, D Welch, M Cook, J Navidi, J Turnbull.
Replacements: K Myhill, C Domachowski, D Lewis, J Down, S Bennett, T Williams, J Evans, M Morgan.

Guinness Pro14 2017/18 - Round 2
Friday, September 8, 2017
KO 7:35pm
RDS Arena

Referee: Andrew Brace (IRFU)
AR1: Frank Murphy (IRFU). 
AR2: Eoin Hogan-O’Connell (IRFU)
TMO: Peter Fitzgibbon (IRFU)
TG4: 7.20pm
BBC2 Wales: 7.30pm
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