Saturday 24 February 2018

O'Driscoll's return boosts Leinster in battle of the Blues

H Farrelly

THERE has been a tasty little build-up to tonight's 'battle of the Blues' at the RDS (6.30) with Cardiff boss Dai Young altering his views on the strength of Irish rugby while Leinster kept their counsel and focused on gaining their first victory of the season.

Young is long established at the Blues and has done good work, turning them into a force to be reckoned with in European rugby. The former Wales and Lions prop was wise enough not to throw any more fuel on the fire this week, claiming that anyone who writes off Leinster or Munster "is foolish", having claimed a couple of weeks ago that teams no longer travelled to Ireland in trepidation.

His counterpart, Joe Schmidt, is still bedding in at his new club and victory this evening would help that process along considerably. The former Clermont assistant coach is getting to know his squad while adjusting to the complications of the Ireland player-management system and losing in Glasgow last weekend bore the hallmarks of a side trying to find its feet in the new campaign.

Although the Blues are tougher opposition, it is safe to expect an improved performance from Leinster tonight. To begin with, Brian O'Driscoll (right) is back in the centre, and Schmidt can look to a natural out-half in Jonathan Sexton to bring control where stand-in Isa Nacewa was unable to against Glasgow.

Nacewa is back where he is most comfortable, forming a strong back three with Luke Fitzgerald and Shane Horgan and there should be some counter-attacking opportunities for this trio to exploit.

Mike Ross will be looking for a big scrummaging performance to further his Ireland ambitions, while captain Shane Jennings returns to form an extremely potent back-row combination with Sean O'Brien and Jamie Heaslip, who looked in prime nick last weekend.

With Dan Parks in their side, the visitors will score points and it is up to Schmidt's men to keep the Scotland international's opportunities to a minimum.

The Welsh side have a solid front five and a back row that commands respect, with Xavier Rush leading the way, while Casey Laulala must be watched in midfield.

However, this is a pretty savvy Leinster team compared to last week and one that is capable of getting Schmidt's new career up and running while proving that trips to Ireland still represent a monumental challenge for opposition coaches.

Verdict: Leinster

LEINSTER -- L Fitzgerald; S Horgan, B O'Driscoll, F McFadden, I Nacewa; J Sexton, I Boss; H van der Merwe, R Strauss, M Ross; N Hines, E O'Donoghue; S O'Brien, S Jennings (capt), J Heaslip. Reps: J Fogarty, C Healy, S Shawe, M Galarza, D Ryan, E Reddan, I Madigan, E O'Malley.

CARDIFF BLUES -- C Czekaj; R Mustoe, C Laulala, D Hewitt, T James; D Parks, R Rees; T Davies, T Rhys Thomas, S Andrews; B Davies, D Jones; M Paterson, S Warburton, X Rush (capt). Reps: R Williams, J Yapp, F Filise, J Down, B White, L Williams, C Sweeney, G Evans.

REF -- A Macpherson (Scotland)

Leinster v Cardiff,

Live, RTE 2, 6.0

Irish Independent

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