Leinster Lions to roar into action in the RDS
International big guns return to formidable champions as they take on Cardiff in Dublin
Cardiff’s Leigh Halfpenny will be just one of several British and Irish Lions on duty in tonight’s clash at the RDS. Photograph: Billy Stickland/Inpho
There’s a fair bit to pick over in this Leinster team to play Cardiff at the RDS tonight. The return of the four Lions will doubtlessly turn heads but also Dominic Ryan at openside and Ian Madigan in his beloved outhalf spot will make for some interesting dynamics in the RDS.
Brian O’Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Cian Healy and Jamie Heaslip step out for the first time this season. Heaslip earlier in the week jesting he was hoping to ‘not to have a heart attack in the first half an hour’ if he was selected by coach Matt O’Connor.
The captain and number eight seemed to be the only one in the Irish camp who believed his selection could be in doubt or that he could suffer physical consequences as a result.
But his point was well made about not having played a competitive match since midsummer. His sentiments may also apply to the others who have been absent for a few months.
Madigan will be eagerly watched by Jimmy Gopperth on the bench, who has already allayed fears in Leinster that headhunting him was anything but an excellent choice.
Madigan, as Schmidt would have it, is under pressure from Gopperth and he’ll want to stand up to the challenge and prove his worth tonight.
So too will Dominic Ryan who blew into the scene as a tackling machine before injury blighted his progress.
He’ll also watch with interest how Seán O’Brien’s contract saga unfolds. France or not? That one will run for a while with Ryan sharing the backrow tonight with Rhys Ruddock and Heaslip.
The combative Fergus McFadden and second row Quinn Roux have also recovered from their respective injuries to also take their starting places with Healy sharing the front row with Sean Cronin and Martin Moore.
Cardiff have made five changes, the most obvious of those the now iconic Sam Warburton coming into the back row.
The inspirational Warburton will bring more than his expertise at openside and along with two others, fullback Leigh Halfpenny and Alex Cuthbert, the Welsh side also bring a strong whiff of Lions excellence to the RDS table.
Last week, Glasgow highlighted just how fallible Leinster can be and ended a 10-match unbeaten run with a 12-6 win. Then again, Glasgow rightfully fancy themselves as play-off material. Cardiff do too and their director of rugby, Phil Davies, said that his team will put a lot of ‘emotion’ into their performance.
“We have made a few changes and we are looking forward to it – it’s a great challenge for us,” said Davies. “We’re playing the champions in their own backyard. That is a pretty big challenge and we are looking forward to it. We’re a proud bunch of players and we want to go out and perform in Ireland.
“We will put a lot of emotion into the performance and also some control and skill, which I think we have shown in the first three games. What was missing last Friday was emotion; it won’t be missing this Friday and that is for sure.”
With the quality of players they have no one will deny Cardiff will turn up but their most recent win on the road in the tournament was by a single point against Edinburgh at Murrayfield in February. Not impressive. They have also only beaten Leinster once in the last 13 meetings since May 2007: 11-3 at Cardiff in February 2011.
So is another victory for the Welsh side at hand? Halfpenny’s kicking is to be respected but that win seems unlikely against this Leinster side.
LEINSTER: R Kearney; F McFadden, B O’Driscoll, N Reid, D Kearney; I Madigan, I Boss; C Healy, S Cronin, M Moore, D Toner, Q Roux, R Ruddock, D Ryan, J Heaslip (C) Replacements: A Dundon, J McGrath, M Ross, T Denton, J Murphy, J Cooney, J Gopperth, B Macken.
CARDIFF BLUES: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, O Williams, D Hewitt, C Czekaj; R Patchell, L Jones; T Filise, M Breeze, S Andrews, L Reed, F Paulo,, J Nividi, S Warburton, A Pretorius. Replacements: M Rees, S Hobbs, B Bourrust, J Down, R Copeland, L Williams, G Davies, C Allen.
Referee: M Mitrea (FIR).