By Dylan James
Guinness Pro14: Leinster v Cardiff Blues
Venue: RDS Arena, Dublin
Date: Sunday, November 22nd, 2020
Kick Off: 17:15
CARDIFF Blues have the difficult task of travelling to Ireland to take on reigning champions Leinster, who have won all of their games this season.
John Mulvihill’s men sit second in the Pro14 Conference B, however, this weekend they come up against a Leinster side that are showing no signs of loosening their grip on the trophy, with some quite convincing victories against Welsh sides already this campaign.
LEINSTER – Jimmy O’Brien, Cian Kelleher, Liam Turner, Ciarán Frawley, Dave Kearney, Harry Byrne, Luke McGrath, Peter Dooley, James Tracy, Michael Bent, Ross Molony, Ryan Baird, Josh Murphy, Dan Leavy, Rhys Ruddock (captain).
Replacements – Dan Sheehan, Michael Milne, Tom Clarkson, Devin Toner, Jack Dunne, Rowan Osborne, Michael Silvester, Scott Penny.
CARDIFF BLUES – Matthew Morgan; Owen Lane, Garyn Smith, Ben Thomas, Aled Summerhill; Jarrod Evans (captain), Tomos Williams; Corey Domachowski, Ethan Lewis, Dmitri Arhip, Ben Murphy, Rory Thornton, James Ratti, Alun Lawrence, Josh Turnbull.
Replacements – Iestyn Harris, Brad Thyer, Keiron Assiratti, Teddy Williams, Gwilym Bradley, Jamie Hill, Max Llewellyn, Hallam Amos.
The Blues will be missing some of their key players due to the internationals being played. Most notably back-rower James Botham, who has been called up to the Wales squad.
PLAYER TO WATCH
RHYS RUDDOCK: 30-year-old back-rower Ruddock dominates the comparative statistics for this fixture. Ruddock has made 35 successful carries, beaten ten defenders and made four turnovers, with the former stat being the second most in the Pro14. Leinster’s captain could be the difference.
OWEN LANE: The winger has been in electric form this season, exemplifying his pace, power and finishing ability. Lane scored a quite magnificent try last week, in a 22-5 victory in South Wales on Monday. A neatly constructed move, which involved a clever pop pass from fly-half Jarrod Evans, found the hands of Lane, who made a quick line break, stepped two players and finished expertly. Watch out for this one Leinster!
POINT TO PROVE
Tomos Williams returns from injury to start against Leinster, the scrum half has been side lined since August, due to a shoulder injury sustained against the Scarlets. Having featured regularly for Wales, notably in the World Cup, Williams will be keen to again cement his position at nine for the Blues, hoping to push away stiff competition from Lloyd Williams, who was very impressive against for Wales against Ireland last weekend, despite the score line.
Blues flanker Alun Lawrence makes first start, coming in at openside in the place of Olly Robinson. Mulvihill is confident Lawrence is ready for his first 80.
“There’s a first start for Alun in the back row as well. He’s built up experience from the bench over the last season or two, and we’re delighted that he gets this opportunity.”
“He’s a great professional and another proud product of the academy. He fully deserved his first senior deal over the summer and hopefully he can grab this opportunity with both hands.”
The gulf seems to be widening between Welsh and Irish sides already this season; Leinster, Munster and Ulster are dominating the Pro14.
Not a single Welsh side has registered a win against these three teams so far this season. Sunday’s fixture in Dublin presents John Mulvihill’s men with an opportunity to change that.
I believe this will be a tough fixture for the Blues, but I don’t think Leinster will blow the South Walians out of the water. The addition of Tomos Williams will add international-level quality and flair to the Blues’ performance. Back-rowers Ratti, Turnbull and Lawrence will be looking to prove the Blues can cope without Botham and Lewis-Hughes, so the visitors will put up a fight.
On the other hand, Leinster have shown they can offensively overwhelm their opponents, so I think the home side will take this one by ten points.