Onus on Leinster fringe to make cut
LEINSTER's Heineken Cup exit has focussed their attention firmly on the Pro12 League, so their understrength side will be gunning for a result in Cardiff this evening.
Having been the league's strongest side in recent seasons, Joe Schmidt's outfit have reached the play-off stages with ease over the past few years. Now, however, they are facing an almighty scrap. They currently sit in third place, but just four points separate second and sixth, with the top-four progressing to the play-offs.
Tonight's opponents are just outside that top six, but a win over last year's finalists would propel Cardiff into the mix.
Leinster will have captain Leo Cullen on duty in the second-row, with Shane Jennings at openside and Isaac Boss at scrum-half. Elsewhere, inexperience abounds among Schmidt's young pretenders.
Munster-bound Andrew Conway starts on the right wing, with Dave Kearney at full-back and St Mary's man Darren Hudson on the left. Andrew Goodman partners Brendan Macken in the centre.
With Heinke van der Merwe expected to depart for Stade Francais in the summer, Jack McGrath is handed a rare opportunity at loosehead, with New Zealander Aaron Dundon and Ireland international Michael Bent making up the front row.
Dominic Ryan makes just his third appearance of the season – his first since December – alongside Rhys Ruddock and Jordi Murphy.
The flanker is out of contract at the end of an injury ravaged season, but his focus is on getting senior game time under his belt.
"I've been ticking away, I've played in four Leinster 'A' games," the 22-year-old said. "Physically and mentally it can be tough if you're not in the first squad, but if you're training week-in, week-out with the firsts and you stay on top of your homework – you're usually in a good place. At times like this, the Six Nations, you can really get an opportunity and, hopefully, it will go well."
Cardiff have relocated to the old Arms Park and Cullen and Co have been keen to stress to the younger players how difficult a venue the ramshackle ground is to play in. Schmidt will be hoping, though, that the youngsters can secure a win.
CARDIFF BLUES – J Tovey; O Williams, G Evans (capt), D Hewitt, H Robinson; R Patchell, L Jones; S Hobbs, R Williams, T Filise; M Cook, J Down; M Paterson, R Wyatt-Jones, R Copeland. Reps: M Breeze, N Trevett, S Andrews, L Hamilton, J Navidi, A Walker, C Sweeney, R Smith.
LEINSTER – D Kearney; A Conway, B Macken, A Goodman, D Hudson; I Madigan, I Boss; J McGrath, A Dundon, M Bent; L Cullen (capt), T Denton; D Ryan, S Jennings, J Murphy. Reps: T Sexton, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, B Marshall, R Ruddock, J Cooney, N Reid, F Carr.
REF – P Fitzgibbon (IRFU)