A trip to Dublin awaits Cardiff Blues on Friday as they travel to the RDS to take on Leinster in the second Guinness Pro14 encounter of the season.
After last weekend’s 10-20 loss to Edinburgh at the Arms Park there will need to be a backlash in the form of a drastically better performance. A number of players have talked about the need to improve ahead of Friday, singling out the contact area specifically.
Lloyd Williams even went as far to say that the performance let down the fans and players’ families, suggesting they were suffering with complacency after defeating English champions Exeter the week before.
Talk is cheap though, and the players will have to put these soundbites into action during a game that is arguably the toughest challenge in the league, Leinster away at the Royal Dublin Showground.
The Irish capital province reached semi-finals of both the Pro12 and Champions Cup last season, losing to Scarlets in the league and Clermont in Europe, but have added to their squad over the summer and by promoting the likes of James Ryan and Joey Carbery to the first team from the academy.
They have also gone south to recruit Maori All Black James Lowe from Chiefs, a winger who was tipped for a full All Blacks cap, as well 39-cap Australian Scott Fardy who is comfortable at either blindside flanker or second row.
Coming into the season as one of the favourites to lift the first ever Pro14 trophy, Leinster overcame a trickier than apparent first week tie, dispatching Dragons in front of a bumper crowd as WRU ownership took hold at Rodney Parade.
Tries from Jamison Gibson-Park, Dan Leavy, Jordan Larmour and Cathal Marsh, as well as a penalty try, secured a bonus-point win for Leo Cullen’s men.
Head coach Cullen has made four changes to that winning side, with Luke McGrath coming in at scrum-half, while James Tracy starts in the front row, and Rhys Ruddock and Jack Conan are named in the back row.
Despite missing Irish internationals Tadhg Furlong, James Ryan, Jamie Heaslip, Sean O’Brien, Joey Carbery, Johnny Sexton, Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose, it’s still an impressively strong squad from Leinster, particularly up front where they will hope to dominate Cardiff.
Leinster: Rob Kearney, Adam Byrne, Rory O’Loughlin, Isa Nacewa (c), Jordan Larmour, Ross Byrne, Luke McGrath; Cian Healy, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Devin Toner, Scott Fardy, Rhys Ruddock, Josh van der Flier, Jack Conan
Replacements: Seán Cronin, Ed Byrne, Andrew Porter, Mick Kearney, Dan Leavy, Nick McCarthy, Cathal Marsh, Barry Daly
Cardiff Blues are currently on a horrendous run of form in the battle of the Welsh and Irish capital sides, with 12 straight losses stretching back to February 2011, when the Blues won 11-3 at the Cardiff City Stadium with help from a Dan Fish try.
You have to go back even further for a Cardiff win in Dublin, way back to December 1995 when the blue and blacks beat Leinster in the 95/96 Heineken Cup semi-final thanks to Mike Hall and Hemi Taylor tries, and the boot of Adrian Davies.
In a bad to rectify this, and more importantly improve on last week’s performance, head coach Danny Wilson has made six changes to his starting XV, also thanks in part to a 13-man injury list.
Kieron Assiratti starts ahead of Fa’ao Filise, who has a knee injury, while Macauley Cook comes into the back row and Josh Turnbull shifts to number eight as Nick Williams fails to overcome a knock to the head.
In the backs we see a change at fly-half, with Steve Shingler and Jarrod Evans switching places, while Garyn Smith comes into the centres in place of Willis Halaholo. Two changes in the back three see Tom James start ahead of Aled Summerhill, and Matthew Morgan drops to the bench as Rhun Williams returns from injury.
Cardiff Blues: Rhun Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Garyn Smith, Rey Lee-Lo, Tom James, Steve Shingler, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Matthew Rees (c), Kieron Assiratti, Seb Davies, Damian Welch, Macauley Cook, Josh Navidi, Josh Turnbull
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, C Domachowski, Dillon Lewis, James Down, Sion Bennett, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Matthew Morgan
Realistically I don’t think any Cardiff Blues fans are expecting a win here, but everyone is expecting a noticeable improvement from last weekend’s performance in the loss to Edinburgh. That is a minimum requirement.
Being competitive at the breakdown and showing an ability to attack what is in front of you is needed, so that we have at least some hope to cling to that things can get better this season.
Pride in the jersey and playing for the fans. It’s all I ask for every week. 100% effort, it’s what the club and we deserve. Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff Blues record v Leinster: W 5 D 2 L 21
Leinster form: W
Cardiff Blues form: L
Leinster top try scorers: Jamison Gibson-Park, Dan Leavy, Jordan Larmour, Cathal Marsh, Penalty (all 1)
Cardiff Blues top try scorer: Josh Navidi (1)
Leinster top points scorers: Ross Byrne (8)
Cardiff Blues top points scorers: Jarrod Evans, Josh Navidi (both 5)
Andy Brace (IRFU) – The Munster-employed referee actually hails from Cardiff and is a former Cardiff Blues community development officer. Refereed our win over the Ospreys at Judgement Day last season, as well as losses to Glasgow away and Ulster at home. He has never refereed Leinster at home before.