Green card gives extra incentive to Jennings and Reddan
THREE Irish provinces face Welsh opposition in the Magners League this weekend, adding spice to the build-up to the Six Nations showdown between the two countries at Croke Park on Saturday week.
A ring-rusty Leinster stuttered to a win over Scarlets a fortnight ago -- thanks largely to a virtuoso display by Jonathan Sexton who scored 22 points to help force his way into Declan Kidney's side for the win over England -- and once again the focus of attention will fall on the performances of internationals Eoin Reddan and Shane Jennings when the province visit Cardiff to take on the Blues on Sunday.
That Kidney left Tomas O'Leary on the field for the entire 80 minutes at Twickenham suggests that O'Leary has put a little daylight between himself and the Leinster scrum-half but, after impressing when introduced for David Wallace, Jennings can make a case for more than the 10-minute cameo he was afforded in London.
Michael Cheika wants his side to all but secure a top-four Magners League spot before they return to Heineken Cup action on April 9 and they sit just three points off leaders the Ospreys with a game in hand.
However, he will continue to give youth its fling with Andrew Conway, who struck for two tries in Ireland's U-20 win over England, in the squad once more after debuting against Scarlets. U-20 skipper Rhys Ruddock is also named in the provisional panel which is expected to be reduced at lunchtime tomorrow.
"It's good that we're in a position to welcome back some of our international players this week who are really keen to play," commented team manager Chris Whitaker.
"We're pleased, not just with the attitude of those players in training this week, but also with the likes of the Ireland U-20 players who enjoyed such an impressive win against England, so some of them could also be involved on Sunday.
"The British and Irish Cup has enabled us to play some of our more experienced players such as Shaun Berne, Girvan Dempsey, Mal O'Kelly and Stan Wright as well as giving the younger players a taste of a higher level of rugby.
"From a Leinster perspective it's encouraging that we have also been able to blood a few more players from the Academy this year and with the likes of Andy (Conway) making his debut in the Scarlets game, it gives encouragement to the rest of the players.
"From a long-term perspective it can only be good to give these young guys a bit of exposure.
"We will look to approach the game in a positive manner because if you sit back against opponents of Cardiff's calibre you invite pressure on yourself. In fixtures such as this, though, experience is vital."
"They have a big forward pack. Xavier Rush is an important player for them as is Paul Tito, while their backline combinations are strong and experienced with the likes of Ben Blair and two exciting centres in Casey Laulala and Tom Shanklin.
"Supplemented by a number of up-and-coming players, they will certainly be a force to be reckoned with as they have found their form recently."
Cardiff's recent record against Irish sides is impressive -- the haven't lost to a province since Leinster's victory at the Arms Park in September 2007 -- but their more recent Magners League form has been less convincing as they have chalked up seven losses from 12 outings this season.
On top of that, Andy Powell's off-field antics while on Wales duty had the club in the spotlight for the wrong reasons while the appearance this week of Cardiff Rugby Football Club Ltd -- the umbrella organisation responsible for Cardiff Blues -- on a winding-up list due to an unpaid tax bill added further embarrassment, though the Welsh outfit insist the matter has long since been tidied up.
Cardiff currently find themselves in eighth spot in the table, sandwiched between the Dragons and Scarlets who both have a game in hand over the Blues.
With only three automatic Heineken Cup spots on offer to Welsh sides for next season, head coach Dai Young admits that his side have yet to find their best form in the Magners League.
"While our Cup form has been good this season our Magners League form has not been up to standard," Young said. "I think with a few games left in the League and important qualification for Heineken Cup at stake every point is important.
"We certainly need a big performance and need to get the victory as the third place Welsh qualifying place could go to wire."
Tom Shanklin, Tom James and flanker Sam Warburton will be available to the Blues though Leigh Halfpenny, Richard Rees, Jamie Roberts, Bradley Davies, Gethin Jenkins, Martyn Williams have all been retained by Wales while hooker Gareth Williams and lock Deiniol Jones are injured.
Despite the absentees, Young revealed that the players will have a special incentive to win a sixth game in succession in all competitions.
"Being ladies day as well I'm sure the players will want to put a big performance in with so many women in the crowd."