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Preview: Leinster v Cardiff Blues

06th April 2012 11:41

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SKY_MOBILE IPAD Martyn Williams Cardiff Blues

Starting: Martyn Williams

Leinster will look to extend their fine streak at Aviva Stadium when they face Cardiff Blues in their Heineken Cup last-eight game on Saturday.

The defending champions are understandably favourites to progress from this clash, not least because of what occurred on a certain Blues flight home last week. Needless to say that the now axed Gavin Henson has been a large part of the pre-game talk, but now that topic has been safely stowed away in the Cardiff overhead locker.

50,000 supporters will be packed in to see if Leinster can remain on course to match Leicester's record of back-to-back European wins of 2001 and 2002. Three triumphs in four years would be some achievement for the Irish side in this competition but following Thursday's announcement that they must go south to either Twickenham or Bordeaux if successful in this last-eight clash, then suddenly things don't look quite as peachy for Joe Schmidt's province.

They will not be too concerned about semi-finals rugby yet though as their first task is against a Blues side that is without Sam Warburton and Jamie Roberts, with the flank suffering with a shoulder issue and the latter is out for six months due to knee surgery.

Cardiff Blues name a new back-row from the team that lost to Glasgow last week with Xavier Rush returning following the birth of his baby boy. He is joined by Martyn Williams who has recovered from a rib injury and Michael Paterson who has recovered from a shoulder injury. There are two changes up front, with Marc Breeze starting for the injured Ryan Tyrell and Gethin Jenkins coming in for John Yapp at loosehead. In the backs, Dafydd Hewitt comes in for the injured Roberts at inside centre and Dan Parks replaces Ceri Sweeney at fly-half as Cardiff Blues backs coach Gareth Baber looks ahead to the game in a positive mindset.

"It has been documented that Jamie is injured, which is a blow for us, but we have two players, Dafydd Hewitt and Gavin Evans, who have epitomised exactly the culture that Justin and I are trying to develop here," he said.

"Players who want to make sure we go as far as we can as a group and are professional until the end. These are two players you need around your group to push them on, you also have people like Gethin Jenkins and Michael Paterson who are ultimate competitors, who want to be recognised for how competitive they are.

"They're solely focused on making sure there is a performance from ourselves at the Aviva."

Meanwhile, Leo Cullen captains Leinster and is named in a pack which shows a number of changes from the side who defeated Munster 18-9 in the RaboDirect PRO12 last weekend.

Cullen partners Brad Thorn at second-row, with Sean O'Brien - who will make his 25th Heineken Cup appearance - coming in alongside Kevin McLaughlin and Jamie Heaslip.

The backline is unchanged by Schmidt with Eoin Reddan partnering Jonathan Sexton - who has amassed 300 points in 27 European appearances to date - in the half-backs.

Gordon D'Arcy forms the midfield partnership with Brian O'Driscoll for the 68th time in blue colours, while Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa complete the back three.

South African prop Heinke van der Merwe is named alongside five Ireland internationals on the bench including the likes of Sean Cronin, Shane Jennings and Fergus McFadden.

Ones to watch:

For Leinster: In what could be the short-term signing of the century, Brad Thorn locks in for Leinster alongside Leo Cullen. The World Cup-winning All Black has a wealth of experience and the home fans will be hoping he can do a Rocky Elsom for them in the Heineken Cup.

For Cardiff Blues: It could be his last Heineken Cup appearance and we expect Martyn Williams to put in an all-action performance in Dublin. Watch him go on the openside.

Head-to-head: The battle at outside centre between Brian O'Driscoll and Casey Laulala should be very interesting indeed. BOD made his return to rugby last weekend and might be a little off full match fitness just yet, which will mean soon-to-be Munster centre Laulala will fancy his chances of coming out on top. Elsewhere and Luke Fitzgerald's personal battle with Wales right wing Alex Cuthbert also whets the appetite as differing physiques meet.

Prediction: Has to be the hosts. Leinster by 10!

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Leinster: 15 Rob Kearney, 14 Isa Nacewa, 13 Brian O'Driscoll, 12 Gordon D'Arcy, 11 Luke Fitzgerald, 10 Jonathan Sexton, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jamie Heaslip, 7 Sean O'Brien, 6 Kevin McLaughlin, 5 Brad Thorn, 4 Leo Cullen (capt), 3 Mike Ross, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Cian Healy.
Replacements: 16 Sean Cronin, 17 Heinke van der Merwe, 18 Nathan White, 19 Devin Toner, 20 Shane Jennings, 21 Isaac Boss, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Fergus McFadden.

Cardiff Blues: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Dafydd Hewitt, 11 Tom James, 10 Dan Parks, 9 Lloyd Williams, 8 Xavier Rush (capt), 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Michael Paterson, 5 James Down, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Marc Breeze, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Kristian Dacey, 17 John Yapp, 18 Sam Hobbs, 19 Macauley Cook, 20 Maama Molitika, 21 Richie Rees, 22 Ceri Sweeney, 23 Gavin Evans.

Date: Saturday, April 7
Kick-off: 17:45 BST
Venue: Aviva Stadium
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), David Changleng (Scotland)

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PosTeamPPts
1Leinster622
2Northampton617
3Castres69
4Ospreys65