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Preview: Leinster v Cardiff Blues

Leinster head coach Joe Schmidt has named an all Irish starting XV as his side look to close the gap on the leading pack in the RaboDirect PRO12.

Schmidt’s side picked up solid if unspectacular wins over Exeter and Scarlets in the first two rounds of the Heineken Cup, ensuring they have lost just one match this season in all competitions – to Connacht in the RaboDirect PRO12.

Last time out in the league, Leinster chalked up a morale-boosting win over provincial rivals Munster and they welcome Cardiff Blues to the RDS on Saturday safe in the knowledge they have lost just once there in their last ten matches.

Leinster’s injury troubles have been well-documented this season and recently compounded after it was revealed full-back Rob Kearney needs to undergo surgery on his back and will be out for ten weeks.

But forwards coach Jono Gibbes doesn’t expect Leinster to embark on a recruitment drive, despite admitting his side are not quite hitting their straps just yet.

“It's a tough start, but we've a few guys coming back like Seanie (O'Brien). Rhys (Ruddock) is a lot closer and David Kearney are returning and Eoin O'Malley is still to come back,” said Gibbes.

"There were some positives to the tough results away from home that we really needed, but certainly there's still room to improve. There are errors that we're making and some discipline issues that are costing us a bit of flow.

"Cardiff have had a bit of turnaround in their roster but they've still got a bit of experience, some class individuals, so I wouldn't have thought the pressure's off at all. We've got to keep building and try to step up again.”

Jonathan Sexton will make his 98th appearance for Leinster and he partners Eoin Reddan in the half-backs while Gordon D’Arcy and Brian O’Driscoll form the midfield pairing.

David Kearney has recovered from injury to make his first start of the season on the right wing while up front Devin Toner locks down at second row alongside captain Leo Cullen.

Hooker Richardt Strauss, who was named in the Ireland squad for the first time earlier this week for the forthcoming November series, is named in the front row alongside international props Cian Healy and Mike Ross.

Blues arrive in Dublin on the back of four straight defeats in all competitions, having lost their last two RaboDirect PRO12 matches before crashing to two losses in the Heineken Cup.

Phil Davies’ side have won both of their RaboDirect PRO12 matches on the road this summer, although they have not won in Dublin since 2004 and have won just once against Leinster in 11 attempts.

Davies makes two changes to the back line that started against Toulon last time out with Dafydd Hewitt coming in for Gavin Evans and Jason Tovey getting the nod at fly-half.

In the pack, Scott Andrew starts at front row while James Down replaces Lou Reed in the second row.

“To win a Heineken Cup, like Leinster have in the last four years, their strength speaks for itself,” said Davies.

“They’ve got a pretty multi faceted team.

“Their kicking game is well established, their set-piece and their ability to be direct is well established, as is their wide game. So they’ve got a pretty much all round game.

“That is what you need, to be as successful as they’ve been in Europe over the last three or four years.

“So, we’ve got a big job on our hand and for me the break down is going to be the main area of battle.

“We’ve got to be red hot both in attack and defence.”

At RDS, Dublin, 6.30pm.
Referee: Ian Davies (WRU, 4th competition game)
Assistant Referees: David Wilkinson, Ollie Hodges (both IRFU)
Citing Commissioner: John West (IRFU)
TMO: Brian MacNeice (IRFU)

Live on RTE Sport and S4C

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