Cardiff Blues v Leicester Tigers, Heineken Cup Semi-Final, May 3
Blues' Lions out to tame Tigers
May 1, 2009
Lions pick Leigh Halfpenny starts on the wing for Cardiff Blues © Getty Images
The Millennium Stadium, scene of some of the most dramatic Heineken Cup finals, plays host to Cardiff Blues and Leicester Tigers on Sunday as the two sides face off for a place in the final of Europe's grandest club competition.
Cardiff go in to the game full of confidence after their gutsy quarter-final win over Toulouse and a 50-point drubbing of Gloucester in the Anglo-Welsh Cup final but are in uncharted waters. While Cardiff RFC contested the first final at the old Arms Park in 1996 the Blues have never gone beyond the quarter-final stages.
Cardiff boss Dai Young is able to call on plenty of international pedigree however, with Wales internationals and British and Irish Lions tourists Gethin Jenkins, openside Martyn Williams, wing Leigh Halfpenny and centres Jamie Roberts and Tom Shanklin all handed starts. Andy Powell, also set to tour South Africa with the Lions, is kept on the bench by outstanding Kiwi No.8 Xavier Rush once again. Rush's fellow Kiwi, lock Paul Tito, captains the side while the tournament's top points scorer Ben Blair wears No.15.
With Jason Spice out with a broke arms sustained in the opening seconds of the Anglo-Welsh Cup final, Richie Rees is handed the No.9 jersey and starts alongside the in-form Nicky Robinson.
The Tigers are the only side ever to win the tournament back-to-back and are in resilient form under the tutelage of new head coach Richard Cockerill. With a new found sense of adventure the Tigers have stormed in to the Guinness Premiership playoffs as top seeds and head in to Sunday's game off the back of a 73-3 rout of Bristol.
Cockerill was faced with several selection headaches ahead of the game, and has elected to keep the Tigers' sole Lion on the bench. Scrum-half Harry Ellis loses out to Julien Dupuy, the hero of their quarter-final win over Bath, who starts alongside Toby Flood at halfback. All Black Aaron Mauger has returned to fitness ahead of the game but must make do with a place on the bench as the irrepressible Sam Vesty takes the No.12 jersey. Geordan Murphy captains the side from fullback.
In the pack Martin Castrogiovanni has been tasked with stopping Gethin Jenkins, arguably pound for pound the best prop in world rugby, while Tom Croft has been shifted in to the second-row. Lewis Moody must make do with a place on the bench after recovering from along injury layoff, with the back-row comprising openside Ben Woods, Craig Newby and No.8 Jordan Crane.
Cardiff Blues: Ben Blair; Leigh Halfpenny, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Tom James, Nicky Robinson, Richie Rees, Gethin Jenkins, Gareth Williams, Tauf'auo Filise, Bradley Davies, Paul Tito (capt), Maama Molitika, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush
Replacements: John Yapp, T Rhys Thomas, Deiniol Jones, Andy Powell, Darren Allinson, Ceri Sweeney, Gareth Thomas
Leicester: Geordan Murphy (capt); Scott Hamilton, Dan Hipkiss, Sam Vesty, Johne Murphy; Toby Flood, Julien Dupuy; Marcos Ayerza, George Chuter, Martin Castrogiovanni, Tom Croft, Ben Kay, Craig Newby, Ben Woods, Jordan Crane
Replacements: Benjamin Kayser, Julian White, Marco Wentzel, Lewis Moody, Harry Ellis, Aaron Mauger, Matt Smith