Having already beaten Clermont Auvergne, Leicester Tigers, Toulouse and Bath in Heineken Cup action at the Aviva Stadium, defending champions Leinster will look to make it five out of five when they clash with the Cardiff Blues for a place in the semi-finals.
HEINEKEN CUP QUARTER-FINAL: Saturday, April 7
LEINSTER v CARDIFF BLUES, Aviva Stadium, 5.45pm (live Sky Sports 1/HD1/RTÉ Radio 1/highlights TG4)
Team News: The Leinster team to face the Cardiff Blues in Saturday’s Heineken Cup quarter-final at the Aviva Stadium has been named.
Leo Cullen captains the Leinster team for the visit of Cardiff. He is named in a pack which shows four changes to the side that defeated Munster 18-9 in last weekend’s league derby.
Cullen partners Heineken Cup debutant Brad Thorn in the second row, with Sean O’Brien, who will make his 25th tournament appearance, coming into the back row alongside fellow Ireland internationals Kevin McLaughlin and Jamie Heaslip.
The province’s back-line is unchanged with Eoin Reddan linking up with half-back partner Jonathan Sexton, who has amassed 300 points in 27 European appearances to date.
Fellow Ireland international Gordon D’Arcy forms the centre partnership with Brian O’Driscoll for the 68th time in Leinster colours, while Luke Fitzgerald, Rob Kearney and Isa Nacewa complete the back-three.
South African prop Heinke van der Merwe is named alongside five Ireland internationals on the bench, including the likes of Sean Cronin, Shane Jennings and Fergus McFadden.
Ticket sales for Saturday’s game are fast approaching the 50,000 mark. Tickets are still available online here, and from Spar (Donnybrook) and the Ticketmaster vans around the ground from 3pm on Saturday, if not sold out prior.
Meanwhile, Cardiff, the only Welsh region in the last-eight, welcome back a number of frontline players for their big European trip to Dublin.
There is a new back row from the side that lost to Glasgow Warriors with New Zealander Xavier Rush returning to the team following the birth of his baby boy last Friday.
He is joined by Martyn Williams who has recovered from a rib injury and Michael Paterson who has recovered from a shoulder injury.
There are two changes in the front row with Marc Breeze starting in place of the injured Ryan Tyrrell and Gethin Jenkins coming in for fellow Welsh international John Yapp.
There are two changes in the backs as the injured Jamie Roberts makes way for Dafydd Hewitt at inside centre and the Connacht-bound Dan Parks gets the nod at out-half ahead of Ceri Sweeney.
LEINSTER: Rob Kearney; Isa Nacewa, Brian O’Driscoll, Gordon D’Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald; Jonathan Sexton, Eoin Reddan; Cian Healy, Richardt Strauss, Mike Ross, Leo Cullen (capt), Brad Thorn, Kevin McLaughlin, Sean O’Brien, Jamie Heaslip.
Replacements: Sean Cronin, Heinke van der Merwe, Nathan White, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings, Isaac Boss, Ian Madigan, Fergus McFadden.
CARDIFF BLUES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Casey Laulala, Dafydd Hewitt, Tom James; Dan Parks, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins, Marc Breeze, Scott Andrews, Bradley Davies, James Down, Michael Paterson, Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush (capt).
Replacements: Kristian Dacey, John Yapp, Sam Hobbs, Macauley Cook, Ma’ama Molitika, Richie Rees, Ceri Sweeney, Gavin Evans.
Referee: Dave Pearson (England)
Assistant Referees: Pascal Gauzere (France), David Changleng (Scotland)
Television Match Official: Geoff Warren (England)
Match Odds (Paddy Power): Leinster to win: 1/10; Draw: 28/1; Cardiff Blues to win: 13/2
Pre-Match Quotes: Leo Cullen (Leinster) – “We know their players and we know the damage they have done to Irish teams at different stages over the last number of years.
“We’ve gone into games, I remember Perpignan in the 2003 (Heineken Cup semi-final). No one gave them much of a chance. We had beaten Biarritz in the quarters — they were the so called ‘big team’ at the time.
“Not many people knew much about Perpignan. We all know the result, what happened that day. You’ve always got to be on your guard.
“There is a good competitive edge in the squad and, obviously, everyone wants to be playing. Places are hard to come by in the starting team.
“We have a certain eye on what the opposition is doing. It is not the be all and end all. As well, you have to have a lot of focus on what you’re doing yourselves.
“It is important that we get our own basics right in the game and that mentally we are in the right place when we go to play.
“Sometimes, it is a lot of fuzz about what the opposition are gonna’ have. It is important we spend the majority of time focusing on what we’re going to do.
“The way the fans have bought into it has been phenomenal. As a place to play, (the Aviva Stadium) is great. The colour, the flags and the noise, it is a really special atmosphere.
“Reputations don’t really count for much. If we’re not quite on our game, Cardiff have experienced, big game players. They are not going to care about reputation.”
Justin Burnell (Cardiff Blues) – “Leinster play with lot of continuity, they have some fantastic pace out wide and a great pack of forwards – they are a bit of an all round package and we expect a tough encounter.
“However, hopefully we can manage to slow their ball down and upset them in certain aspects of their game.
“And 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 and perform and win the game.
“We are not going there to make up the numbers or to make the match a good spectacle – we are going there to try our hardest to win the game.
“It will be a massive occasion at the Aviva Stadium in front of a huge crowd against the big boys in Europe – if not the team in Europe – so it couldn’t be much bigger than this.
“From our point of view seven of our squad were in Wales’ Grand Slam winning team, Casey Laulala is in fine form at the moment and James Down, who I have always thought would be a very good player, is coming back from injury.
“Our captain Paul Tito is a fantastic leader and Xavier Rush is playing well at the moment, so we do have some very good players of our own.”
Current Form – Leinster – (RaboDirect PRO12): Lost 27-3 away to the Ospreys; Won 31-10 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 23-19 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 15-10 away to the Scarlets; Won 26-7 at home to Aironi Rugby; Won 30-20 at home to Connacht; Won 36-28 away to Edinburgh; Won 24-19 at home to Munster; (Heineken Cup): Drew 16-16 with Montpellier; Won 38-13 at home to Glasgow Warriors; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 30-20 away to Benetton Treviso; Won 52-9 at home to the Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 18-13 away to Bath; Won 52-27 at home to Bath; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-13 at home to Ulster; Won 15-13 away to Connacht; Won 23-19 away to Cardiff Blues; (Heineken Cup): Won 23-16 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 25-3 at home to Montpellier; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 42-8 at home to Benetton Treviso; Won 16-13 at home to the Scarlets; Drew 10-10 away to Glasgow Warriors; Won 22-6 away to Aironi Rugby; Lost 23-22 at home to the Ospreys; Won 18-9 away to Munster
Cardiff Blues – (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 38-15 away to Edinburgh; Won 33-18 at home to Benetton Treviso; Lost 20-3 away to Ulster; Lost 18-13 at home to Munster; Lost 34-13 at home to Glasgow Warriors; Won 37-26 away to Aironi Rugby; (LV= Cup): Lost 33-3 away to Newcastle Falcons; Lost 30-3 at home to the Scarlets; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 26-20 away to Connacht; (Heineken Cup): Won 26-20 away to Racing Metro 92; Won 24-18 at home to London Irish; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 38-0 at home to Aironi Rugby; Lost 52-9 away to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Won 25-8 at home to Edinburgh; Lost 19-12 away to Edinburgh; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 28-9 at home to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 17-12 away to the Ospreys; Lost 23-19 at home to Leinster; (Heineken Cup): Won 22-15 away to London Irish; Won 36-30 at home to Racing Metro 92; (LV= Cup): Lost 40-3 away to Gloucester; Won 45-40 at home to Harlequins; (RaboDirect PRO12): Won 22-15 at home to Connacht; Won 21-14 at home to Ulster; Lost 16-13 away to Munster; Won 20-13 away to Benetton Treviso; Lost 18-14 away to the Newport Gwent Dragons; Lost 26-14 at home to the Scarlets; Lost 31-3 away to Glasgow Warriors
Top Scorers – 2011/12 Heineken Cup: Leinster – Points: Jonathan Sexton 63; Tries: Rob Kearney 4; Cardiff Blues – Points: Dan Parks 59; Tries: Alex Cuthbert 4
Previous European Meetings: 3
Friday, January 23, 2004 – Pool 3 – Leinster 20 Cardiff Blues 17, Lansdowne Road
Friday, December 12, 2003 – Pool 3 – Cardiff Blues 19 Leinster 24, Cardiff Arms Park
Saturday, December 30, 1995 – Semi-final – Leinster 14 Cardiff 23, Lansdowne Road
Heineken Cup Records:
2009/10: Reached the semi-finals
2007/08: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2006/07: Reached the quarter-finals
2005/06: Reached the semi-finals
2004/05: Reached the quarter-finals
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Reached the semi-finals
2001/02: Reached the quarter-finals
2000/01: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1999/00: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
1998/99: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1997/98: Failed to qualify from Pool A
1996/97: Failed to qualify from Pool B
1995/96: Reached the semi-finals
Cardiff Blues –
2010/11: Failed to qualify from Pool 1
2009/10: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2008/09: Reached the semi-finals
2007/08: Reached the quarter-finals
2006/07: Failed to qualify from Pool 4
2005/06: Failed to qualify from Pool 2
2004/05: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2003/04: Failed to qualify from Pool 3
2002/03: Failed to qualify from Pool 6
2001/02: Failed to qualify from Pool 5
2000/01: Reached the quarter-finals
1999/00: Reached the quarter-finals
1997/98: Reached the quarter-finals
1996/97: Reached the semi-finals