Racing Metro v Cardiff Blues, Heineken Cup, November 11, 2011
Metro look to give Cardiff the blues
November 10, 2011
Hernandez will hope to provide some inspiration from fly-half © Getty Images
Some of the stars of the 2011 Rugby World Cup will go head-to-head once again when Racing Metro and Cardiff Blues clash in Paris on Friday night.
Cardiff Blues' Sam Warburton saw red in the first-half in the semi-final showdown between Wales and France and the Blues boast a wealth of international talent in their ranks in the guise of Jamie Roberts, Gethin Jenkins and Bradley Davies. But lying in their wait is one of the sleeping giants of French Rugby - Racing Metro. The Parisian side have won five of their opening 10 games in the Top 14 but can now call upon the likes of Lionel Nallet and Fabrice Estebanez to bolster their Heineken Cup charge.
They took their bow in the competition last year and competed alongside Leinster, Saracens and Clermont Auverge in the 'Group of Death.' They finished third behind eventual tournament winners Leinster and Top 14 rivals Clermont but have refrained from spending big in the close season with Estebanez their only stand-out signing.
In their way lie the 2009 Heineken Cup semi-finalists and 2010 Amlin Challenge Cup champions the Cardiff Blues. They were knocked out in heartbreaking fashion in a penalty shoot-out to Leicester Tigers in 2009 and are experiencing some uncertainty behind the scenes with coaching duo Justin Burnell and Gareth Baber still unsure of their jobs. But they have one of the standout players in world rugby in their ranks in Warburton and with international talent like Casey Laulala and Dan Parks at their disposal they will hope to reach lofty heights come May.
Racing Metro - Player to Watch: The World Cup was a poorer spectacle without the magic of Juan Martin Hernandez on show. The versatile back has the skills to unlock even the most battle-hardened of defences and the Blues will have to keep a close eye on him throughout the match.
Racing Metro - Team News: Francois Steyn and Sebastian Chabal miss the clash due to injury but they still possess an embarrassment of riches in their ranks. Gaetan Germain anchors the team at fullback with Sereli Bobo and Juan Imhoff on the wings. Henry Chavancy lines up alongside Fabrice Estabanez in the centres with the mercurial Juan Martin Hernandez starting at half-back alongside Mathieu Loree. Italian veteran Andrea Lo Cicero starts at loose-head with Juan Pablo Orlandi on the other side of the scrum packing down alongside Benjamin Noirot at hooker. Karim Ghezal and Jone Qovu Nailiko form the second-row with John Leo'o, Antoine Batut and Jacques Cronje starting in the back-row. Lionel Nallet takes his spot on the bench.
Cardiff Blues - Player to Watch: All eyes will be on Sam Warburton after the heart-breaking end to his World Cup. The Wales skipper was in inspired form throughout the tournament and will be going all out to make amends for their semi-final loss against France come Friday.
Cardiff Blues - Team News: Leigh Halfpenny (foot) and Gavin Henson (wrist) fail to make the cut but the Blues call on Jamie Roberts, Lloyd Williams, Sam Warburton, Bradley Davies and Gethin Jenkins for their clash with Metro. Casey Laulala, Chris Czekaj, Alex Cuthbert, Tom James and Dan Parks line-up in the back division alongside Roberts and Williams. In the forwards Xavier Rush anchors the side at No.8 with Warburton and Michael Paterson completing the back-row. Davies and James Down pack down in the second-row with Tao Filise and T Rhys Thomas vying alongside Jenkins in the front-row.
Key Battle: Andrea Lo Cicero up against the power of Tongan Tao Filise is a classic in the making. Both are well experienced props and with both sides possessing creative backlines, the speedsters will hope their forward pack builds them a stable platform from which they can showcase their talent.
Trivia: Cardiff Blues' biggest win in the tournament came against Calvisano in January 2009 when they prevailed 62-20 running in nine tries in the process.
Stats: Cardiff's win ratio in Europe is just over 50% having been on the right side of the result in 48 of their 95 games.
"They have six of Wales' World Cup players - Leigh Halfpenny, Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts, Lloyd Williams, Gethin Jenkins, and Bradley Davies - in their squad and of course France played Wales in Auckland less than a month ago. Of course that game is still fresh in my memory but I won't take that into consideration on Friday night."
"A lot of players have performed fantastically for us during the opening of the PRO12 so it would have been good to mix them with the World Cup players. The Welsh players have come back from a very successful campaign and they showed they are some of the best players in the world. Physically and mentally they are ready for the Heineken Cup."
Prediction: France is a tough place to go and get a result and the Blues will lose this by a narrow margin
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