Friday 9 December 2016

Cullen wary of Cardiff's 'advantage' as Leinster seek to keep pace at top

Published 20/02/2016 | 02:30

Leo Cullen (SPORTSFILE)
Leo Cullen (SPORTSFILE)

Cardiff Blues may have beaten Leinster just once in their previous 18 attempts and coming into this afternoon's meeting on the back of a shock defeat to Treviso was hardly the ideal preparation, but Leo Cullen is still treading carefully

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The Welsh side's home form has been markedly better than their away results and Cullen is very mindful of the advantage that Cardiff hold of playing on an artificial 4G surface.

Earlier this week, Leinster trained in Donnybrook in preparation for their visit to the Cardiff Arms Park and Cullen insisted that their opponents hold an advantage.

"The home teams generally perform pretty well. It is a slight advantage," he said.

"The familiarity with playing on it, a lot of our guys playing B&I Cup would have played on the Donnybrook pitch.

"A lot of our players are reasonably comfortable playing there, especially the younger guys more so. Guys who are coming through schools now are going to get pretty comfortable playing on it in the future.

"But yeah, Cardiff, they adapted little slight tweaks to the way they play their game. You know, they try to play with good tempo, even in their own half because it can be a little bit easier to hold onto possession for long phases.

"It's hard to win the ball back because the way the tackle unfolds slightly differently.

"From momentum, whether that's a scrum or a maul, it can be very hard to stop once that team gets going forward.

"You see with Saracens particularly, I know they got beaten heavily last weekend, but they generally have performed very well in those two areas, scrum and maul. Once they start going forward it can be very hard to stop."

Mick Kearney has been named in the starting XV for the first time since joining from Connacht last summer.

The second-row has been out injured with a persistent toe problem and he makes a welcome return along with Jack Conan who has missed the last three months with an ankle injury.

Several players including Ian Madigan, Eoin Reddan and Rhys Ruddock have returned from international duty to start but Cardiff's hand has also been strengthened as they welcome back four Welsh players.

Cardiff coach Danny Wilson echoed Cullen's thoughts about their home surface and is hoping that it is an advantage to his side.

"We enjoy the surface at home but it's also important we don't concede as many tries as we have at home," Wilson said.

"Our confidence on our home pitch is high; it's a surface where we have adapted our game and style to suit it. But we're playing against one of the best running teams out there so we know the challenge ahead."

Verdict: Leinster

Cardiff Blues - R Patchell; A Cuthbert, C Allen, R Lee-Lo, B Scully; G Anscombe, L Williams (capt); T Davies, K Dacey, S Ma'afu; J Hoeata, J Down; J Turnbull, E Jenkins, M Vosawai. Reps: M Rees, B Thyer, T Filise, M Cook, J Navidi, T Williams, T James, D Fish.

Leinster - Z Kirchner; F McFadden, G Ringrose, B Te'o, I Nacewa (capt); I Madigan, E Reddan; C Healy, S Cronin, T Furlong; M Kearney, H Triggs; R Ruddock, J Murphy, J Conan. Reps: R Strauss, P Dooley, M Ross, T Denton, D Leavy, M McCarthy, N Reid, A Byrne.

REF - P Fitzgibbon (IRFU)

Cardiff v Leinster, Live, Sky Sports 1, 3.00pm

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