Leinster boost as Strauss back for clash with Cardiff Blues

Leinster have been boosted by the return to fitness of Richardt Strauss as they aim retake top spot on the RaboDirect PRO12 table with victory over Cardiff Blues at Arms Park this evening (8.05pm kick-off).

But there is still a slight doubt about the participation of Fitzgerald. His troublesome abdominal-abductor strain will be assessed ahead of the game. Should he fail to make it, his place on the left-wing will be taken by Sam Coghlan-Murray.

Strauss, who had only just returned to action following heart surgery in October, has overcome a recent hamstring woe and will lead a new pack from the one that secured a 31-19 win over Newport Gwent Dragons at the RDS. Experienced flanker Kevin McLaughlin will be captain on the night, alongside Old Belvedere’s Jack Conan, who will make his first start for the province at No 8.

The clash with ninth-placed Cardiff is an ideal opportunity for Conan to display his credentials, but he will face a baptism of fire against the Blues’ Munster-bound Robin Copeland.

Previously a member of the Leinster Academy, Copeland has been in sparkling from throughout the current campaign, and completes a formidable back-row along with the versatile Macauley Cook and returning Welsh international Josh Navidi.

Yet, with 22 players missing from their squad, Cardiff Director of Rugby Phil Davies has been forced to make seven alterations, including four in their back division, from their 27-20 reversal to Glasgow Warriors.

With current leaders Munster not in action until Sunday, when they face a tricky away game with Ospreys, the holders will aim to intensify the pressure on their great rivals.

Although a host of star names are absent, Leinster head coach Matt O’Connor can still field six full internationals, including South African full-back Zane Kirchner, and will hope the half-back pairing of Jimmy Gopperth and Eoin Reddan can build the foundations for their seventh consecutive triumph in all competitions.

LEINSTER: Z Kirchner; D Fanning, B Macken, N Reid, L Fitzgerald/S Coghlan-Murray; J Gopperth, E Reddan; M Bent, R Strauss, T Furlong; T Denton, Q Roux; K McLaughlin, D Ryan, J Conan.

CARDIFF BLUES: D Fish; O Jenkins, I Tuifua, G Evans, H Robinson; G Davies, L Jones; S Hobbs, K Dacey, S Andrews; J Down, F Paulo; M Cook, J Navidi, R Copeland.

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