Halfpenny hoping for Dublin repeat
April 6, 2012
Leigh Halfpenny made no mistake in Wales' colours back in February © Getty Images
Cardiff Blues fullback Leigh Halfpenny hopes that a little of Wales' Grand Slam magic rubs off when they tackle Leinster in a Heineken Cup quarter-final at Lansdowne Road on Saturday.
Halfpenny kicked the winning points as Wales snatched a 23-21 victory in Dublin at the start of February to begin their march to a Six Nations clean-sweep, with the Blues underdogs as they were that day.
The odds are stacked against the Welsh region, who travel without flanker Sam Warburton and centre Jamie Roberts due to injury, and Leinster boast their share of Irish internationals keen to redress the balance.
"A lot of the Leinster players were in the Irish team at the Aviva in February, and a lot of them will feel at home there, but we have to do the same as we did with Wales," Halfpenny said.
"We have to do the basics well, run hard and make sure we compete well at the breakdown. Every time we get a chance to take points we have to do it, and our defence will need to be huge. Coming into this game, it is the biggest game of our season so far. If you can't get up for a quarter-final Heineken Cup game at a packed stadium you shouldn't be here.
"People are writing us off, saying the odds are stacked against us and we have no chance, but we have to take that as motivation and go there with the belief that we can give it everything and get a result."
Any unlikely victory will be built on defence and stopping Leinster - unbeaten in 12 Heineken Cup games - launching their explosive backline.
"Our defence has to be spot-on," Halfpenny said. "It has to be bigger than it has been so far in this competition if we are to get a result. A lot of games are won by defence now, and we have worked hard on aspects we need to do well on. The breakdown is another area they are very strong at, and we have to make sure we are cleaning guys out to keep hold of the ball and not give away turnovers."
Dafydd Hewitt replaces Roberts in midfield alongside Casey Laulala, while Halfpenny is among four players starting that were involved in Wales' match-day 22 when they beat France to clinch the Grand Slam three weeks ago.
Leinster include a fit-again Brian O'Driscoll for his first European start this term, with New Zealand's Rugby World Cup-winning lock Brad Thorn handed a Heineken Cup debut alongside second-row partner and captain Leo Cullen.
Leinster have not lost a Heineken clash in Dublin for almost six years, but the reigning European champions are taking nothing for granted.
"The Blues are a much better side than some of their Pro12 results suggest, and we know how dangerous they can be when they have their full-strength side out," Leinster forwards coach Jono Gibbes said.
"They will be coming with a number of players who were able to help Wales win against Ireland at the Aviva in the recent Six Nations, and that knowledge and confidence is bound to give them a big lift. Our recent home defeat against the Ospreys introduced a dose of positive fear into the camp. We now know what can happen if we are not on top of our game."
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