All four Irish provinces return to RaboDirect PRO12 duties between today and tomorrow after a month-long hiatus and, with three games to play in the next three weeks, league ambitions are set to rise and fall while the country’s top players are distracted by the business at hand in the Six Nations.
For Leinster, who lie third and a dozen points behind leaders Ulster, the goal will be to overtake Glasgow and occupy the penultimate slot in the ladder by the time the stars return some time in mid-March.
“Absolutely,” said flanker Dominic Ryan. “That’s the main goal of this five-week period, to stay in the top four and even get up to second. We’re just a point behind Glasgow so we’ll look after our own stuff and hopefully we can stay in the top four.”
With the Heineken Cup caravan moving on without them last month, Leinster’s ambitions have been rerouted somewhat but games like tonight offer more than just collective goals. For guys like Ryan, these international windows are an opportunity to audition for the big time.
Ryan made his debut for Leinster over three years ago and it is two since what appeared at the time to be his breakthrough when he scored two tries against Saracens in a Heineken Cup game at the RDS but progress has been slower than expected.
Ankle injuries last season and this have held him back and the sheer quantity as well as quality of back rows on the books have limited him to B&I Cup appearances with the seconds since his last of two senior games, against Connacht in December.
“Physically and mentally it can be tough if you’re not in the first squad but if you’re training week in, week out with the firsts and you stay on top of your homework – in terms of lineout prep and the different moves you have in the team – if you look after that and you look after yourself you’re usually in a good place.”
The Lansdowne clubman will take his place this evening in a decent looking selection that will be pivoted by Isaac Boss and Ian Madigan at half-back and led up front by Leo Cullen and Shane Jennings.
Munster-bound Andrew Conway will make his 12th appearance of the season on one wing, Dave Kearney fills in for brother Rob at full-back while Brendan Macken and Andrew Goodman are stationed in the centre.
Cardiff’s director of rugby, Phil Davies, has called on his side to restore some pride after they shipped 59 points at the RDS earlier this season and, with the pitch at the Arms Park expected to be stodgy, it could make for a heavy night’s work.
“Like ourselves, they’ve a few away on international duty,” said Ryan.
LEINSTER: D Kearney; A Conway, B Macken, A Goodman, D Hudson, I Madigan, I Boss; J McGrath, A Dundon, M Bent; L Cullen (capt), T Denton; D Ryan, S Jennings, J Murphy.
Replacements: T Sexton, H van der Merwe, J Hagan, B Marshall, R Ruddock, J Cooney, N Reid, F Carr.
CARDIFF BLUES: J Tovey; O Williams, G Evans, D Hewitt, H Robinson; R Patchell, L Jones; S Hobbs, R Williams, T Filise; M Cook, J Down; R Copeland, R Watts-Jones, M Paterson.
Replacements: M Breeze, N Trevett, S Andrews, L Hamilton, J Navidi, A Walker, C Sweeney, R Smith.
Referee: P Fitzgibbon (IRFU).