Cardiff Blues head into October on the back of an unbeaten September where four wins from four were enough to see the team claim second in the Pro12 table. It’s been a dream start to the season in almost every respect, but Saturday evening brings yet another tough challenge with the visit of Leinster.
Now if there have been some records to be broken or bogey teams to overcome in the last few weeks, I’m thinking Zebre and Munster away as well as Glasgow, then a win vs Leinster would be the biggest scalp of the season so far with our recent form against them. We have lost our previous 10 matches against them, all in the Pro12, dating back to February 2011.
On that day it was a low scoring affair at the Cardiff City Stadium where a Dan Fish try, as well as two Ceri Sweeney penalties, saw the side gain an 11-3 win over Leinster. Since then there’s been a few hammerings, 52-9 in 2011 and 59-22 in 2012 spring to mind, but last season were two closer affairs. A 23-15 loss in Dublin was followed by a 13-14 defeat at CAP in atrocious weather.
If there was ever a time to put that record to bed it was now though. The team is playing better than it has at any point in the last five years, they are on a run of four wins, confidence is soaring and no doubt CAP will be packed once again. Leinster are still as strong as ever, but if you take the Glasgow game as a template for this, we could even be considered favourites.
Leinster themselves have had a pretty good start to this season. A 20-8 win at home to Treviso was disappointing due to lack of bonus point, before another bonus point was snatched from them in a loss to Glasgow. Since then though 20-33 wins at Edinburgh and a comfortable 31-19 victory over Ospreys last week have seen them secure 4th place in the Pro12 table.
There’s nine changes to that side which beat Ospreys last season. Captain Isa Nacewa, a perennial pain in the side for Cardiff, is dropped alongside Garry Ringrose, Luke McGrath, Cian Healy, Tadgh Furlong, Sean Cronin, Devin Toner, Jordi Murphy and Jamie Heaslip.
Some big experience which now takes it’s place on the bench, but still a strong lineup with Fergus McFadden returning to the starting XV as well as Jamie Gibson-Park, Jack McGrath, Mike Ross and Rhys Ruddock. They are joined by two players making their full senior debuts in Ian Nage and Rory O’Loughlin, with Barry Daly set to do the same off the bench.
Leinster team vs Cardiff: Zane Kirchner, Fergus McFadden, Rory O’Loughlin, Noel Reid, Dave Kearney, Johnny Sexton (c), Jamison Gibson-Park: Jack McGrath, James Tracy, Mike Ross, Mick Kearney, Ian Nagle, Dan Leavy, Josh van der Flier, Rhys Ruddock
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Peter Dooley, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Jamie Heaslip, Nick McCarthy, Joey Carbery, Barry Daly
In comparison to Leinster, Cardiff Blues head coach Danny Wilson has made just four changes from the team which one in Zebre last week. The regular front row of Gethin Jenkins, Kris Dacey and Fa’ao Filise returns with Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees and Scott Andrews on the bench, while Gareth Anscombe and Ellis Jenkins also come back into the starting XV in place of Steve Shingler and Josh Navidi respectively.
The only other change to the squad sees Dan Fish return from the injury picked up against to Munster to take a seat amongst another strong subs bench which will be crucial seeing as Leinster do have a tendency to stop playing after 50 minutes.
Cardiff team vs Leinster: Matthew Morgan, Blaine Scully, Cory Allen, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James, Gareth Anscombe, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins (c), Kris Dacey, Fa’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
So two in-form teams, two quality packed sides and one loud Cardiff Arms Park all makes for a top Saturday night. Don’t miss out on what’s all set to be a cracking evening’s rugby entertainment.
When it comes to predictions this game is too tight to call, but if Cardiff can rediscover our play from pre-Zebre than we are definitely in with a shout. As ever, all we ask for is 100% commitment from the lads, come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff record vs Leinster: W 5 D 2 L22
Cardiff form: WWWW
Leinster form: WLWW
Cardiff top try scorer: Tom James (3)
Leinster top try scorers: Joe Carbery, Dan Leavy (2)
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler (28)
Leinster top points scorer:Joe Carbery (20)
Dudley Phillips (IRFU) – Oh. What happened to neutral referees? Anyway, refereed us to wins in our last two home game, and losses in the last two away games. Two matches officiated this season, both away wins for Irish sides. God help us.