Rhys Williams and Dai Young with two young Blues fans
Wales News Service
Cardiff Blues coach David Young admits his Heineken Cup squad is stronger than ever before - but says looking good on paper doesn't get you through to the prestigious quarter-finals.
After three injury-ridden seasons and plenty of criticism from fans and the media, Young says the Blues are ready to compete in Europe - starting with Leeds Tykes at the Arms Park on Saturday.
"This is by far the strongest squad I've had in my four years here," he said. "We're actually having selection meetings these days, which are a new experience for me. Usually we just pick the 22 players who are not injured.
"Last season, we were often down to the third or fourth-choice players in some positions, and you can't compete at this level if you're doing that."
The Blues go into the match on the back of maulings by London Wasps and Leinster, Young grateful for the wake-up calls.
"They were reality checks, but not to us. I think we knew where we were, but some people were getting a bit carried away with our form and they needed reality checks.
"We had a huge amount of respect for Wasps, and they out-played us, but we showed towards the end with those three tries that we can play a bit. We just need to do that for 80 minutes. Rugby's a funny game - I think we did better against Wasps than we did against Saracens the previous week, but we beat Saracens quite easily.
"To be fair to us, we're still some way off the big boys - the Munsters, the Leicesters, the Wasps. I think we could take any of them on our day, but to compete regularly against them, we have to improve by about 30 percent."
Much has been made of the Blues' "easy" Pool, but Young points out that fans of Leeds, Calvisano and Perpignan will be seeing the Blues as a possible away win.
"I don't think being in what is seen as an easier Pool has increased pressure on the coaching staff," he said. "We're always under pressure at the Arms Park - we've been in the pools of death in the past couple of seasons, but we're still expected to go through.
"What the draw has done is give us an opportunity - but we still have to take that opportunity. I think we can do a job on the likes of Calvisano and Leeds and Perpignan, but I'm pretty sure that the Calvisano coaches are rubbing their hands together, thinking they can do a job on us.
"It's a cliché, but there are no easy games in the Heineken Cup. If we did make the quarter-finals, it would be a huge fillip for the club and a reward for the fans who have stuck by us during the hard times.
"This isn't an easy job, and it's not getting any easier, but I think we're moving in the right direction.
"We've got a good squad, and a good coaching team. If we can keep the players on the field, we can win stuff. We can compete and that's what everyone wants."