Cardiff Blues v London Irish, Heineken Cup, November 18, 2011
Blues out to cement pole position
November 17, 2011
The Blues' Alex Cuthbert races away to score against Metro © Getty Images
The Cardiff Blues host London Irish on Friday evening with both sides enjoying contrasting fortunes in the opening round of the Heineken Cup.
The Cardiff Blues produced one of the stand-out results of the opening weekend with a commanding 26-20 win over Racing Metro in Paris. They had a host of their World Cup charges to call upon and they showed no signs of complacency as they despatched the Top 14 big-spenders. However, they suffered a huge blow with Jamie Roberts forced to miss this weekend's game with a twisted knee. But it seems like they are coming closer to resolving their backroom staff for the rest of the season with Blues chairman Peter Thomas giving his backing to the duo of Justin Burnell and Gareth Baber.
For the Exiles, meanwhile, it was a weekend to forget as they fell to Edinburgh at home 20-19. The Scottish outfit had Greig Laidlow to thank with a late penalty as they produced one of their most impressive victories in recent times. Pool 2 has now been thrown open as a result of the weekend's results and the pressure will be firmly on London Irish as they look to bounce back against Cardiff on Friday.
Cardiff Blues - Player to Watch: Alex Cuthbert impressed against Racing Metro scoring an important try for the Welsh region and with Wales going through a rich vintage of prolific wingers, Cuthbert will hope to add to his tally come Friday.
Cardiff Blues - Team News: The Blues make two changes from the side which defeated Racing Metro with Paul Tito returning to the second-row in place of the injured James Down, while Dafydd Hewitt starts in the centre in place of the injured Jamie Roberts. Tito also takes the captain's armband for the clash.
London Irish - Player to Watch: Joe Ansbro steps into the void left by Shontayne Hape and will look to stake his claim for the Exiles' outside centre berth with Steve Shingler chomping on the two internationals' heels. The Scottish centre has impressed in the past but is yet to showcase his array of skills to the London Irish faithful.
London Irish - Team News: London Irish have made six changes ahead of their clash with the Blues. Clarke Dermody returns to captain the side in a front row that contains David Paice at hooker and Faan Rautenbach at tighthead prop. Declan Danaher comes in at blind side flanker. Steve Shingler moves from outside to inside centre where he will be partnered by Joe Ansbro who moves into the centre from the wing. Topsy Ojo will start on the wing.
Key Battle: Jebb Sinclair is up against Xavier Rush at the back of the scrum - a clash which has all the makings of a potential classic. The Canadian international is still bedding into life at London Irish while Rush is a seasoned Heineken Cup veteran.
Trivia: A win on Friday will bring up 50 wins for Cardiff in the Heineken Cup
Stats: Tom Homer is currently the leading points scorer in the Aviva Premiership with 126 to his name
Quote Unquote: "All the World Cup players are excited to be playing our first game at the Cardiff City Stadium since returning from New Zealand and it promises to be a great match." - Sam Warburton sounds the rallying call ahead of the clash
"Both sides play entertaining rugby so it should make for a great spectacle. We know what is required of us tomorrow evening. We will go there to be competitive and look to come away with a result." - Exiles coach Toby Booth previews a must-win match for his side
Prediction: The Exiles will be reeling from their first round loss to Edinburgh but they will come out of Round 2 with two losses to their name with the Blues running out victors in front of their home crowd.
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