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Preview: Cardiff Blues v Leinster

19th February 2014 12:08

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Cardiff Blues welcome Josh Navidi back into their side for Thursday's clash with Leinster at the Arms Park.

Navidi has been ruled out of action through injury since last month's Heineken Cup clash with Toulon, but the fit-again Wales international is now recalled by Blues as they hunt a vital win.

Director of Rugby Phil Davies makes a total of seven changes to his starting line-up with exciting young wing Owen Jenkins, who last month signed a long-term deal at Blues, one of four changes to the back division.

Gavin Evans is named at inside centre, where he will partner Isaia Tuifua, while a new-look half back pairing will see Gareth Davies and Lewis Jones join forces.

Sam Hobbs will captain the team from the front row while James Down is recalled for his second start of the season in the RaboDirect PRO12.

Macauley Cook moves to blindside flanker where he links up with Navidi and Robin Copeland in the back-row.

Changes on the bench include a call-up for back row Luke Hamilton and Wales Under-20 scrum half Tomos Williams.

"In all the Irish provinces there is huge depth and Leinster will be strong no matter what side they select. They showed that last weekend against the Dragons as they claimed a bonus point win," said Davies.

"We have a total of 22 players missing in total, either away on international duty or injured, but have great faith in our boys and I know they can do a great job. We have a number of young players involved and it's exciting to see them get an opportunity to impress.

"The squad has worked very hard and we've had good patches throughout this season. But this is the most important period we have had and we are going to have this season.

"After the frustration of the last match against Glasgow the quick turnaround it's great," he added.

"It's a big challenge as we hunt a top six place and we need to start getting positive results. It's vital we get the team emotional and physically ready for this game and hopefully we will have a big crowd right behind us to see us tackle the champions."

Meanwhile for Leinster, coach Matt O'Connor has made wholesale changes to his pack and a number of changes to his backline due to players being away on international duty..

Most notably both Richardt Strauss and Luke Fitzgerald return from injury and are both named to start, albeit that Fitzgerald will again be assessed ahead of the game in Cardiff.

Following on from last weekend's forward display, Leinster will be hoping for more of the same but from a completely new front eight. Michael Bent, Strauss and Tadhg Furlong make up the front row with Tom Denton and Quinn Roux selected in the second row. Bent will win his 25th Leinster cap at the Arms Park.

In the back row Kevin McLaughlin captains the side from six, with Academy player and Ireland U20s capped Jack Conan selected at eight for his first Leinster senior start. Dominic Ryan starts at seven after impressing off the bench last weekend against the Dragons.

In the backs Noel Reid and Brendan Macken get another outing at centre with this the third game in a row that they have started alongside each other. Zane Kirchner continues at full back with Darragh Fanning once again selected on the wing but switching to the right to accommodate Fitzgerald on the left. Should Fitzgerald not be cleared to play Sam Coghlan-Murray will start in his stead.

At half-back Eoin Reddan is again selected at scrum half having fully recovered from a calf injury with Jimmy Gopperth selected at 10.

Form: Cardiff Blues' only victory in their last seven RaboDirect PRO12 contests came at home to Dragons on New Year's Day. The Blues have beaten an Irish province just once in their last eight encounters: 21-10 against Connacht at the Arms Park in round 2 this season. Leinster have been defeated just once in the PRO12 since round five: 6-11 at Edinburgh on 20th December. The Leinstermen have not been defeated by a Welsh region in any competition since they visited Ospreys in the PRO12 on 4th November 2012. Cardiff Blues have won just one of their last 14 encounters with Leinster since 2007: 11-3 in the PRO12 at the Cardiff City Stadium in February 2011.

The teams:

Cardiff Blues: 15 Dan Fish, 14 Owen Jenkins, 13 Isaia Tuifua, 12 Gavin Evans, 11 Harry Robinson, 10 Gareth Davies, 9 Lewis Jones, 8 Robin Copeland, 7 Josh Navidi, 6 Macauley Cook, 5 Filo Paulo, 4 James Down, 3 Scott Andrews, 2 Kristian Dacey, 1 Sam Hobbs (c).
Replacements: 16 Rhys Williams, 17 Tom Davies, 18 Patrick Palmer, 19 Chris Dicomidis, 20 Luke Hamilton, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Simon Humberstone, 23 Tom Williams.

Leinster: 15 Zane Kirchner, 14 Darragh Fanning, 13 Brendan Macken, 12 Noel Reid, 11 Luke Fitzgerald / Sam Coghlan-Murray, 10 Jimmy Gopperth, 9 Eoin Reddan, 8 Jack Conan, 7 Dominic Ryan, 6 Kevin McLaughlin (capt), 5 Quinn Roux, 4 Tom Denton, 3 Tadhg Furlong, 2 Richardt Strauss, 1 Michael Bent.
Replacements: 16 Aaron Dundon, 17 Jack O'Connell, 18 Edward Byrne, 19 Mike McCarthy, 20 Rhys Ruddock, 21 Luke McGrath, 22 Ian Madigan, 23 Darren Hudson.

Date: Thursday, February 20
Kick-off: 20:05 GMT
Venue: Cardiff Arms Park
Referee: Andrew McMenemy
Assistant Referees: Gwyn Morris, Greg Morgan
TMO: Paul Adams

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PosTeamPPts
1Leinster622
2Northampton617
3Castres69
4Ospreys65