Reddan leaps to defence of 'tough' Pro12
IT is the competition that everyone underestimates, according to Leinster scrum-half Eoin Reddan, but if there is any malaise surrounding the Pro12 campaign, it won't be found this weekend.
Leinster welcome Cardiff to the RDS for what could be termed a dress rehearsal of sorts for the November internationals.
Allowing for their injuries, Leinster are almost at full strength, with Ian Madigan getting more game time at full-back in a bid to convince Declan Kidney that he could solve a problem for him there.
Rhys Ruddock is an option for the province again off the bench, which provides some relief for their injury problems in the back-row.
Leinster fans will also be keen to see if Dave Kearney -- returning from a double hip operation -- can continue the scorching progress he made last season in what will be his first appearance since the agonising Pro12 final defeat to the Ospreys last season.
Cardiff have made four changes from the side that was beaten by Toulon, yet they are not resting any of their marquee names Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and Sam Warburton, who will all start tonight.
While the Ospreys have a happy knack of successfully raiding at the RDS, their Welsh neighbours haven't won in Dublin since 2004. However, with Wales players top of the queue to audition for the Lions this summer, Reddan expects to face a side out to make their mark.
"Hopefully, we can continue our good record against them, but that won't count for much in this match," said Reddan, who starts beside Jonathan Sexton at half-back.
"They have a lot of good players who are trying to put their hands up for the Autumn Internationals with Wales and for the Lions (the Welsh coach is also the Lions coach).
"It gives them all an incentive to come here and produce a big performance against players they probably rate, said Reddan."
The Blues are on a four-game losing streak in all competitions, but have won both of their away games in the Pro12.
There will be a familiar face in the RDS this evening. Having watched last year's Heineken Cup quarter-final clash between the sides from the Lansdowne Road stands, former Leinster academy member and Wexford native Robin Copeland is named on the bench for the Blues.
The Welsh region started strongly against big-spending Toulon last weekend with a try after two minutes, but faded from there.
However, Reddan believes there'll be no drop in intensity after consecutive weekends of Heineken Cup action and points out that the English sides have a relatively easy ride.
"I think the players value the Pro12, but maybe the media don't. Our fans come and see us every week. Come down to the RDS (for a Pro12 match) during the Six Nations and it's always a sell-out. It is very important to us.
"It's a competition that everyone seems to underestimate. The Rabo is a very tough competition. You see that every year. People think it's easier, but it's not.
"This week we'll be playing against Lloyd Williams, Alex Cuthbert, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halpenny. On our side there'll be Jonny (Sexton), Brian (O'Driscoll) and a number of other internationals.
"It's more a case of how the Rabo is perceived and reported on; that it's a step down. But in reality it's not. As players, you have to realise that all week you'll be told that this game isn't as hard as last week -- but it probably will be.
"That Ospreys game last year -- the final -- was one of the toughest I have ever played in.
"You basically have four international sides and 12 club teams in the Rabo. The Premiership has one international side and 12 teams.
"At this stage of the season you have to keep your form for the Autumn Internationals, but I don't think anyone will be thinking about that until Sunday night."
Ireland's five-day training camp kicks off next Monday in Carton House and it remains to be seen who will be available to the provinces next weekend.
Leinster have a couple of tricky assignments in November -- away to the Ospreys and Glasgow -- when their front-line players are on international duty. But they are expected to be boosted by the arrival of Irish-qualified tight-head Michael Bent in the coming days.
Though there are suggestions Bent could be fast-tracked into the Ireland squad, which currently contains just one specialist No 3 in Mike Ross, he could feature in Leinster's trip to the Ospreys on Sunday week.
But with joe Schmidt rolling out the big guns this weekend and the fact that his side has only managed to beat Leinster once in 11 attempts, Cardiff director of rugby Phil Davies knows his side have it all to do.
"They've got a multi-faceted team. Their kicking game is well established, their set-piece and their ability to be direct is also well established, as is their wide game.
"So, they've pretty much got an all-round game," he said.
"That is what you need, to be as successful as they've been in Europe over the last three or four years.
"We've got a big job on our hands and for me the breakdown is going to be the main area of battle."
"We've got to be red hot both in attack and defence."
Leinster -- I Madigan; D Kearney, B O'Driscoll, G D'Arcy, F McFadden; J Sexton, E Reddan; C Healy, R Strauss, M Ross; L Cullen, D Toner; K McLaughlin, J Murphy, J Heaslip. Reps: S Cronin, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, D Browne, R Ruddock, I Boss, B Macken, F Carr.
Cardiff Blues -- L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, D Hewitt, J Roberts, T James; J Tovey, L Williams; T Filise, M Breeze, S Andrews; B Davies, J Down; J Navidi, S Warburton, A Pretorius. Reps: R Williams, N Trevett, C Ma'afu, L Reed, R Copeland, L Jones, C Sweeney, T Williams.
Ref -- I Davies (WRU).
Leinster v Cardiff Blues
Live, RTE 2, 6.30