Leinster set the standard for pumped-up Cardiff
CARDIFF BLUES are steeling themselves for the challenge of taking on Leinster in the Pro12 tomorrow, describing Joe Schmidt's side as "the standard-bearers of northern hemisphere rugby".
The Blues lie 14 points behind league leaders Leinster in fifth place and, after losing to the Ospreys last weekend, are determined to kick off 2012 with a home victory.
Further incentive comes from their humiliation in the RDS at the start of December when an understrength Cardiff side were obliterated by Leinster on a 52-9 scoreline.
It has given the Blues a healthy respect for their opponents' attacking capabilities, with forwards coach Joe Burnell claiming that Leinster are setting standards for every other club to follow. "Our first match at home in 2012 couldn't come much tougher," said Burnell.
"They are the Heineken Cup champions and to me the standard-bearers of northern hemisphere rugby. They are a star-studded outfit with a fantastic mixture and when I watched their game against Bath it seemed that every time they had the ball they looked threatening.
"They score a lot of tries, as do we, so there are two teams who try to play an expansive game. It should be an entertaining encounter. I think Leinster are setting the standards of how rugby should be played so we are looking forward to taking them on."
His Leinster counterpart Jono Gibbes is expecting a far sterner challenge from Cardiff, with their experienced players back in tow, than they managed in December, while he says his side need to improve their own game after a nervy win in Connacht.
"You'd expect a pretty experienced nucleus to get the job done in terms of fronting up, being competitive and putting in place what they're trying to do -- better than they did when they were in the RDS," said Gibbes.
"They've got a nucleus that has played together for the Blues for quite a few years. They can get a bit disjointed at times but gel pretty well when they put it all back together.
"We've had two weeks where we've been missing some personnel and it's hard to gauge how close we are (to top form). We've mixed and matched a little bit.
"There have been some good things and some things that definitely need attention. It almost feels like we haven't had a lot of flow," added Gibbes. "That's what's important about the Cardiff game -- we need to fit back in as many guys as we can who've missed out on the past few weeks and try to gel a little bit together.
"I think that will be really important for trying to get some combos and momentum going. Cardiff will be trying to do the same and it will be a really tough match."
Meanwhile, Gavin Henson is hoping to use the match against the European champions as a springboard back into the Welsh squad in time for the Six Nations.
Henson missed out on Wales' impressive run to the World Cup semi-finals with a wrist injury but impressed at full-back in the last two games for the Blues and now wants to build on those displays.
"It's great to be back out on the field," said Henson. "I really enjoyed the two games I've played in, against the Dragons and the Ospreys. I'm just concentrating on getting into the flow of it and more involved in the action.
"This game with Leinster is huge for me, while it's really important for us to get a good result to take into the Heineken Cup."