Leinster v Cardiff Blues, Heineken Cup, April 7
Leinster take aim at battle-weary Blues
April 6, 2012
Brian O'Driscoll returns to Lansdowne Road in Leinster colours this weekend © Getty Images
Cardiff Blues make the short hop across the Irish sea to face Leinster in the last eight of the Heineken Cup on Saturday, and the Welsh region will be entering the lions' den at a packed Lansdowne Road.
Leinster's most recent trip to the national stadium saw them tear Bath apart and Cardiff are very much in the firing line after injuries to skipper Sam Warburton and centre Jamie Roberts.
The Blues were atrocious in a heavy RaboDirect PRO12 defeat to Glasgow last weekend and were also forced to deal with the fallout from Gavin Henson's latest disciplinary wobble this week. Leinster, by contrast, fought their way to a rare away win over Munster and welcome Brian O'Driscoll back to the European arena after injury. The stage is set for the reigning champions.
Leinster - Player to Watch: Brian O'Driscoll is back and the centre will be itching to get involved in a high-pressure environment once again. The Blues will know all about the threat he poses, but stopping it is another thing entirely.
Leinster - Team News: Leo Cullen leads a strong side, with Sean O'Brien alongside Jamie Heaslip and Kevin McLaughlin in the back-row and All Black Brad Thorn in the engine-room. O'Driscoll partners Gordon D'Arcy in midfield while Eoin Reddan gets the nod alongside Jonny Sexton at halfback.
Cardiff Blues - Player to Watch: Leigh Halfpenny is one of the form players in Europe after his part in Wales' Six Nations Grand Slam and will need to be at his best if a faltering Blues side are to have any chance this weekend.
Cardiff Blues - Team News: The Welsh region have been boosted by the return from injury of Michael Paterson and Martyn Williams in the back-row, alongside Xavier Rush, while Dafydd Hewitt starts at inside-centre in place of the injured Roberts. Dan Parks is recalled to partner Lloyd Williams at halfback, while Gethin Jenkins returns at loose-head.
Key Battle: Dan Parks is not famed for his playmaking abilities, but the Blues outside-half must find a spark from somewhere this weekend. Penalties will not be enough to beat a side like Leinster on their own patch, especially with Sexton's early-season form in Europe to mind.
Trivia: Leinster go into their latest Heineken Cup knockout game without their most experienced player in the competition. Shane Horgan played 87 European games for the province before announcing his retirement last month due to a persistent knee injury.
Stats: Cardiff scored fewer tries than any of the other quarter-finalists during the Pool stages, half as many as Leinster's 18.
"I do think that they are capable of beating anyone on their day. You look at the team sheet and quality of players, and then the fact that their international players are coming off the back of the Grand Slam and oozing confidence which they will inject back into the side." - Leinster centre Brian O'Driscoll.
"When you look at our performances in the matches at Racing Metro this season and in the 2010 Amlin Challenge Cup final against Toulon, there is no reason why we can't go to Dublin, perform and win the game." - Cardiff Blues coach Justin Burnell.
Prediction: The Blues appear to be the weakest side in the last eight and are missing some leading lights, expect a comfortable Leinster victory.
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