On what promises to be a fairly grisly evening weather-wise, much has been made of the fact that the Cardiff Blues team visiting the RDS tonight is denuded of eight Welsh internationals. Wales, you see, are playing the Australians in a coffer-filling exercise tomorrow. Fortunately for them, the base avarice of the WRU has been allowed skulk through the mists of sentimentality that have followed Shane Williams’ announcement of his retirement from international rugby. This match isn’t actually a testimonial to the former IRB International Player of the Year, as much as he deserves one, and as much as it is being portrayed as such by the Welsh media. No, this is just the WRU in full money-grabbing mode, flogging its players in a bid to capitalise on their reasonably successful RWC11 efforts.
It should be said that Leinster too are also missing a number of internationals. No Heaslip, no O’Driscoll, no D’Arcy, Horgan, Fitzgerald, Toner or McLaughlin, and Mike Ross, Sean Cronin, Eoin Reddan, Jonny Sexton and Rob Kearney must be satisfied with starting on the bench.
It’s an interesting looking Leinster team in their absence. The backline is bookended by experienced campaigners in Isaac Boss at scrum-half and IRUPA Players’ Player of the Year Isa Nacewa at fullback, with a threequarter line full of pace but short on size. Fionn Carr  and Dave Kearney  are the wideouts, with Eoin O’Malley  and Fergus McFadden  partnering each other in midfield outside Ian Madigan  at outhalf.
The Mole doesn’t have too many worries about the experience factor, but he does have some concerns over the lack of size in the Leinster backline. With Horgan out, Leinster have very few options when it comes to selecting a big three-quarter. Brendan Macken is the tallest available back at 188cm [6'2"], and Rob Kearney the heaviest at 95kg [15st].
In contrast, Cardiff have some good size in their back line: former All Black Casey Laulala @ 185cm [6'1"] and 100kg [15st 9lbs], Gavin Evans @ 191cm [6'3"] and 98kg [15st 6lbs] and Chris Czekaj @ 191cm [6'3"] and 107kg [16st 11lbs].
Anybody who followed Clermont during Joe Schmidt’s time there knows that he uses big backs better than any coach in the NH – think of the damage that he had Malzieu, Rougerie and Nalaga doing in the 09-10 season. Nobody wants a backline full of Rob Deweys, but just one big back can bring a lot of otherwise unavailable wrinkles into your gameplan.
The selection of the pack sees South African import Steven Sykes [that's him taking the pop from John Smit in a Springboks training session] make just his third competitive start for Leinster. Sykes has been a bit of a mystery man since his arrival, and certainly hasn’t contributed anything close to what was expected of him. He has had his share of nagging injuries – and came straight off the back of a Super Rugby season – but Leinster have been bitten in the recent past by an overly generous contract offer to massive under-performer Ed O’Donoghue, and Sykes is in the unfortunate position of having to pay the bill for somebody else’s damage. He needs to start contributing pretty lively in the blue jersey, because there’s neither a huge amount of depth beneath him, nor patience for indolent second-rowers amongst the RDS fanbase.
Sean O’Brien slots in at No8, flanked by Shane Jennings on the openside and Rhys Ruddock on the blind. This will be Ruddock’s tenth start of the season [including the friendlies] and he has come off the bench on three other occasions; he has played in all bar one of Leinster’s matches to date this season, and is certainly earning his corn. With Jenno at openside, the backrow has an archetypal distribution of skills, but Ruddock will need to step up his lineout work in the absence of Toner, McLaughlin and Heaslip.
K’mon Kaahdiff are currently fifth in the league table, with a match in hand over the four teams ahead of them. As mentioned above, they’re short a number of current Welsh internationals; they’re also short a couple of former Test players, with 99-times capped openside hero Martyn Williams and 33-times capped utility knob Gavin Henson both unavailable for selection due to injury.
Cardiff have been very well-served in the past by their overseas players; Xavier Rush [138 games], Paul Tito [112 games], Ben Blair [107 games], Tau Filise [125 games] and Ma’ama Molitika [126 games] have been uniformly reliable – and sometimes excellent – over the years, and Casey Laulala looks set to figure as another consistent contributor to the Cardiff cause. All of them bar Blair will take the pitch tonight, and they bring real steel to a team that would otherwise look quite short-handed.
However, they’re getting on at this stage: Molitika is 37, Filise and Rush 34, and Tito 33. Whether they can last the full 80 mins is open to question, and it’s something that Leinster will hope to test as the game draws on.
It’s a miserable enough night, and a late kick-off, so this could be a low-scoring match. The Mole thinks that Leinster have enough to win it, but it could be close.