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Burnell: Ulster clash key to playoff hopes

Guinness PRO12 Editor

16 Feb 2012

Gavin Henson runs out for his first appearance for the Blues

Cardiff Blues boss Justin Burnell admits that Friday’s clash with fellow play-off chasers Ulster will have a huge bearing on his side RaboDirect PRO12 ambitions in the remainder of the season.

The Blues currently sit sixth in the table with Ulster fifth as they both seek to haul in Munster who currently occupy the last play-off spot.

And Friday’s tussle at Cardiff Arms Park takes on even greater significance when you consider that there are only eight rounds remaining before the post-season begins.

And with that in mind Burnell, whose troops last week picked up their first RaboDirect PRO12 win of 2012 against Connacht, has picked out Ruan Pienaar as Ulster’s dangerman. 

"It is a massive challenge for us but important that we pick up points to get us to the play off stages," he said. 

"I think Ulster's threat comes from across the board. They have recruited some exceptional South African and New Zealand forwards and have a very good half back pairing."

"Pienaar is a key man for them and if there was a world ranking I certainly think he would be in the top three whether he was playing 9 or 10."

"The players and coaches certainly enjoyed being back at the Arms Park last weekend and we are fortunate that we have two great venues to play at. It was a great occasion.

"Certain players hadn't played there and were proud that they were given the opportunity. I hope we can secure the same result on Friday."

The Blues suffered a serious setback this week with the news that centre Casey Laulala will leave the club at the end of the season to join Rabo rivals Munster.

And while Burnell conceded that the loss of Laulala would be felt keenly back in Wales, he backed his squad’s youngsters to step up to the plate.

“[It's a] massive loss. [He's a] good player in the environment. Munster's gain is certainly our loss,” he added.

"But we have to get on with it. We have also got to ensure when we lose one player we have to make sure that [someone like] Corey Allen, who was very good up in north Wales [with the Wales Under-20s]. He has to be fast-tracked.

"But let's not forget we have got Gavin Evans, Dafydd Hewitt and Jamie Roberts in the centre position as well."