Blues prepared for underdog Tigers
April 28, 2009
Paul Tito's Cardiff Blues are looking for their second piece of silverware this season © Getty Images
Cardiff Blues and Leicester are all set to go toe-to-toe at the Millennium Stadium this weekend with a place in the Heineken Cup final at stake, and Blues skipper Paul Tito is determined to keep his side focused on the task in hand. The Blues are expecting a record crowd at the home of Welsh rugby and will be out to keep alive their unbeaten record in knock-out games this season against one of the form sides in European rugby.
The Blues lost to the Tigers home and away during the 2006-07 Heineken Cup and will be keen for revenge on the big stage. Dai Young's improving side defeated the Tigers earlier this season before they stormed to Anglo-Welsh Cup glory against Gloucester at Twickenham, and will also be brimming with confidence after defeating three-time champions Toulouse in the quarter-finals.
"We have had a couple of good wins there but that will count for nothing on Sunday," said Tito. "The 12 from 12 is a nice record but it won't amount to much because we know that without another big performance we are 80 minutes from going out of the tournament. We also accept that the Toulouse game was a serious struggle - a head-on collision with their big fellows left us needing to dig in deep and play for each other - and although we had more joy against Gloucester and got our game together much better this semi-final is absolutely huge for everyone at the Blues.
"It was nice to get that first trophy as there has been a lot of hard work done by the Blues since regional rugby started and, while it might have taken a bit longer than some people thought or wanted for success to be achieved, it is good to get the monkey off our backs.
"I have only been here two years but I know there have been some tough times and a fair bit of criticism over the years so it was good to see them sticking with the core of the squad and winning some deserved silverware. It means we go into the semi-final with a lot of confidence but we know we will be up against a very good Leicester side who will also approach the match confidently."
The Tigers finished top of the pile in the Guinness Premiership after a 73-3 mauling of Bristol on Saturday to set up a semi-final meeting with Bath, but centre Dan Hipkiss has labelled his side as underdogs for their trip to the Welsh capital.
"People give us little or no chance - and that includes the bookies," said 26-year-old Hipkiss, who has scored four tries in 22 Heineken Cup appearances. "We have won the Heineken Cup twice but that is history and not relevant to today. At Leicester we don't dwell on the past and what may or may not have been achieved years ago and it is players like Tom Croft and Harry Ellis who are our future.
"The Leicester mentality is always to set the finals of all competitions as the goals - getting only as far as the semi-finals is simply not good enough. "Along with that there is the drive to play your best rugby in the big games, the ones that really matter like a Heineken Cup semi-final, and we will be very disappointed if we don't reach at least one final this season."
The game will also provide a showcase of talent set to tour with the British and Irish Lions, with the Blues looking set to name six tourists in their squad and Leicester parading their Lions scrum-half Harry Ellis.
"This is just the sort of game you want to test yourself in and with them having six Lions set to tour South Africa in the summer - including centres Tom Shanklin and Jamie Roberts - we know it is going to be a big challenge," said Hipkiss. "However, we are pretty happy with our form right now because, while it was tough changing styles midway through the season with the change in coaches, we now feel we have adapted pretty well.
"We have won two of the three games I have played in at the Millennium and it is one of those stadiums you are really hungry to play in as it is very similar to Welford Road in that the fans are right up close to the pitch. That will create just the sort of atmosphere you want for a huge game like a semi-final."
"The fans could not be happier with the opposition and it adds an exciting element to a game that is shaping up as a thriller." Ben Kay previews the Premiership final showdown
"If there was a cross breed of canine called an Underdogdoodle it would win best in show at Crufts." Mark Durden-Smith looks at the Aviva Premiership Final
With the Lions' tour to Australia fast-approaching, ESPN's Austin Healey and Mark Durden-Smith sat down to share their memories of the 2001 trip Down Under
Ask John answers questions on the Leopards' tour to Italy in 1974, brotherly Test sides, Pat McGrath, England's games against the Barbarians and Jacques Brunel