Key players have returned for both sides as Leinster host Cardiff Blues at the RDS hoping to hold onto top spot in the Guinness PRO12.
After two weekends with no domestic action both teams have named strong squads having being boosted by RBS 6 Nations returners and recoveries from injury.
Leinster secured a narrow 16-13 win in the Welsh capital back in Round 5 and now welcome the Blues to Dublin as they lead the Guinness PRO12 on 66 points from second-placed Ospreys.
What’s at Stake?
Leinster are two points ahead of second-placed Ospreys after taking 20 points from a possible 20 on offer in the Guinness PRO12 during the Six Nations.
They look to continue that good run of form and the fixture also represents the last chance for players to impress ahead of their Champions Cup Quarter-Final against Wasps at Aviva Stadium.
The Welsh region, coming off the back of a 23-12 defeat to Munster earlier this month are currently sitting eighth in the Guinness PRO12 table and are targeting a win to keep up their hopes of making the top six.
The Blues’ 18-17 victory at Edinburgh in their most recent away game ended a three game losing streak on the road in the Guinness PRO12.
Leinster have won the last three games between the sides but scores have been close and Cardiff will be targeting a good performance ahead of their own European quarter-final in the Challenge Cup against Gloucester next week.
Leinster team news
After the conclusion of the Six Nations Leinster welcome back Cian Healy from international duty as well as Dan Leavy who is fresh from his call-up against England last week.
Leinster Rugby Head Coach Leo Cullen is also able to call upon several key players returning from injury – Isa Nacewa captains the side from wing, Adam Byrne occupies the other wing and the in-form Joey Carbery completes the back three at full-back.
Luke McGrath and Ross Byrne start together as the half-backs for the first time since New Year’s Eve, Josh Van Der Flier is back from injury at open side and Rhys Ruddock comes in at No.8 for only the second time this season.
Cardiff Blues team news
Club captain Gethin Jenkins makes his long-awaited comeback from injury to start on the bench alongside Ellis Jenkins who also makes his return.
Head Coach Danny Wilson has made five changes to the side that lost to Munster, captain Blaine Scully and Alex Cuthbert are named on the wings and partner full-back Matthew Morgan in the back three.
Ray Lee-Lo comes in for Willis Halaholo at outside centre, Steve Shingler is at 12 and Gareth Anscombe goes again at outside half.
Lloyd Williams is on the bench with his namesake, Tomos, getting the nod at scrum-half. Meanwhile Kristian Dacey returns from international duty to start at hooker.
Leinster Rugby Scrum Coach John Fogarty has promised that there will be no complacency when the league-leaders take on Cardiff at the RDS.
He said: “No one can get away from the fact that we’re going to play Wasps next week, but we’re focusing hard on Cardiff Blues to put ourselves in a nice position so that we’re strong and we can build towards the Wasps week.
“It has been a really, really good couple of weeks for us – it’s been awesome. Across the board we feel it’s quite competitive and it’s not going to be easy with some of the calls, but I think we’re lucky and we’re in a good position.”
And Cardiff Head Coach Danny Wilson is pleased to welcome back some important players from injury.
He said: “For the first time in a few weeks we’ve had more than thirty players fully-fit to train which has allowed us to prepare much better than we have previously.
“It’s about building performances now, and we need a performance away at Leinster to then go into a quarter final against Gloucester the very next week, which is a key target game.
“We’ve got some big games ahead of us and they’re games we’re going to take extremely seriously, because if we don’t make the top six we can be in a play-off spot which gives us an opportunity to make the Champions Cup next year.”
Key Battle: Isa Nacewa v Alex Cuthbert
Nacewa will captain Leinster at the RDS on Saturday, the experienced 34-year-old New Zealander comes into the side onto the left wing after returning from knee surgery.
The utility back has recently extended his contract with the province and was in good form before his recent injury.
On Saturday he comes up against British & Irish Lion Cuthbert, 26, who returns to the side after international commitments, replacing Aled Summerhill.
The winger, who has 45 caps for his country, came in for some criticism after Wales’ game against England but responded immediately with a blistering try against Treviso the following week.
He will be desperate to keep up that form at the weekend and this clash of experienced wingers could go a long way in deciding the result.
Leinster have won their last six Guinness PRO12 fixtures since losing out to Munster in Limerick at Christmas.
Did you know?
Leinster have won their last twelve matches against the Blues in all competitions, whilst the Welshmen’s only victory over the Leinstermen since 2007 was 11-3 at the Cardiff City Stadium in February 2011.
Leinster top points scorer: Isa Nacewa 78pts Top try scorer: Joey Carbery 8
Cardiff top points scorer: Steve Shingler 190pts Top try scorer: Tom James 7
Overall Guinness PRO12 head to head record:
Played 27, Leinster won 20, Blues won 5 with 2 games drawn.
At RDS Arena, 3pm Live on Sky Sports and TG4
Referee: Marius Mitrea (FIR, 65th competition game)
Assistant Referees: Matteo Liperini (FIR), Richard Kerr (IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: Peter Ferguson (IRFU)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)
Leinster extended their winning run in the Guinness PRO12 to seven games but were made to work extremely hard for a 22-21 victory over Cardiff Blues.
The Irish province have now won their last 13 games against the Blues in all competitions with Ross Molony’s try proving to be the crucial try at the RDS Arena.
Twice Leinster took the lead with tries from Dan Leavy and Luke McGrath but those times they were pegged back by Tomos Williams’ completing Blues counter-attacks.
Sion Bennett put the visitors ahead for the first time with a third counter-attacking score but Molony’s try took Leinster back in front with the Blues taking home a losing bonus point.
A clever grubber kick from centre Noel Reid unlocked the Cardiff Blues defence after just four minutes as Leavy, who came off the bench for Ireland last weekend, collected and dotted down.
Ross Byrne added the extras successfully from the touchline to put the league leaders 7-0 up.
The visitors brought themselves level barely ten minutes later though as Blaine Scully pounced on a Leinster knock-on before feeding Rey Lee-Lo who set scrum-half Williams away to score.
Steve Shingler made no mistake with the conversion and the scores were level.
McGrath restored the home side’s advantange on the half hour when the scrum-half sniped around the corner of a ruck from close range for his seventh Guinness PRO12 try of the season.
Ross Byrne was once again on target from the tee to make it 14-7.
Reid thought he had Leinster’s third try of the afternoon early in the second half when he ran clear but referee George Clancy brought play back after Joey Carbery had a foot in touch.
And barely a minute later, Gareth Anscombe used his quick feet to get out of trouble before launching a devastating counter attack through Kristian Dacey.
The hooker was deep inside his own half but released Williams for his second try and, with Shingler’s conversion, pulled the scores level.
Leinster regained the lead with 54 minutes gone with a penalty from Ross Byrne’s boot as the Blues were caught offside.
But the visitors had their third try, again from the counter attack, as Lee-Lo took full advantage of Leinster coughing up possession before finding Scully who fed Bennett.
The replacement ran in from halfway with his first touch of the game and Shingler added the extras as the Blues led 21-17 with 20 minutes left to play.
The league leaders restored their lead though when Molony was part of a driving maul that forced its way over the line but Byrne’s conversion was wide and the lead was a single point but it was enough.
Guinness PRO12 Final 2017, 27th May, Aviva Stadium, Dublin.
Ticket Information: Fans can still avail of an exclusive number of €35 tickets. Book via www.ticketmaster.ie. Further information: www.pro12rugby.com/final
24 Mar 2017