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Schmidt sounds warning of wounded dragons as the Cardiff sideshow rolls into town

Leinster may be overwhelming favourites to book a Heineken Cup semi-final trip to either Twickenham or Bordeaux, but coach Joe Schmidt has warned his title holders to beware the wounded dragon.

"It's a little bit similar to Ireland, when there was an expectation around Ireland versus Wales not so long ago," said Schmidt ahead of tomorrow's quarter-final clash with Cardiff Blues, referring to then stunning opening Six Nations reverse against the eventual Grand Slam champions.

The hapless Blues travel to Dublin today reeling from a disastrous week's preparation as the fallout from the ill-judged drinking session following their embarrassing defeat to Glasgow continues to reverberate.

Injured Grand Slam-winning captain Sam Warburton was wheeled out this week to defend his club's sacking of principal trouble-maker Gavin Henson.

Also, key midfield dynamo Jamie Roberts was ruled out for the rest of the season, but Schmidt has pointed to the presence of a number of Grand Slam winners as evidence of the potential threat from the Welsh side.

"It's disconcerting," he says of his side's rampant favouritism for the near sell-out Lansdowne Road tie.

"We've got a heck of a lot of respect for Cardiff. We went over there last time we played them and won 23-19 and they missed a couple of kicks and it could have gone either way.

"I think the teams will be relatively similar to the two teams that went out that night. Bradley Davies didn't play that evening. The expectations are a little bit disconcerting when you know the quality of the opposition. Individually, I could go through a string of their guys who have been very successful in the last 18 months."

Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Lloyd Williams, Gethin Jenkins and Bradley Davies are survivors of Warren Gatland's Grand Slam winners, and the side also contains veterans Dan Parks, Martyn Williams and Xavier Rush.

Leinster, though, will be at full-strength for the tie save the calf injury victim Eoin O'Malley, albeit he would have merely been battling for a replacements berth, such is the strength of the champions' panel.

Schmidt believes that the furore surrounding Henson's sacking -- Casey Laulala, the side's Munster-bound centre, initially tweeted his support for the disgraced player -- could strengthen the visitors.

"I don't perceive that to be any advantage at all to us," he explained. "Sometimes that can kind of consolidate the group and get them to focus on their rugby. They can focus on trying to turn their season around in 80 minutes because that's what they can effectively do.

"In the Rabo Pro 12 they'll struggle to qualify and this is their one big chance to turn their season around.

"That will focus them. I don't think they'll be too distracted by any off-field attention."

Irish Independent