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Blues boss praises Wales wannabe Anscombe.

Byline: Andy Howell Rugby correspondent andy.howell@walesonline.co.uk

MARK Hammett believes Gareth Anscombe would 'add things' to Warren Gatland's Six Nations squad and has praised the Wales wannabe for the way he has settled since arriving from New Zealand.

Anscombe will go headto-head with another Kiwi in Wasps-bound Jimmy Gopperth at the Arms Park today when Cardiff Blues take on champions Leinster in a vital Guinness Pro12 fixture.

But the Irish province will pitch up in the Welsh capital minus a whole host of their biggest names, probably because they have one eye on their remaining two fixtures in the European Champions Cup which come in the next two weeks. Gordon D'Arcy, Luke Fitzgerald, Isaac Boss, Cian Healy, Sean O'Brien, Devin Toner, Shane Jennings, and Jamie Heaslip, among others, will all be missing from the Leinster line-up.

Meanwhile, Blues director of rugby Hammett hasn't made the mistake he did for the Boxing Day derby with Dragons, when he controversially left some of his stars out of his starting line-up and suffered the agony of watching them come unstuck in the Welsh capital.

Anscombe and Lions and Wales prop great Gethin Jenkins are both in this time along with Wales and Lions skipper Sam Warburton, who missed that encounter due to a shoulder niggle. Jenkins, who makes his 150th appearance for the Blues, and Anscombe came off the bench early in the second half and the latter's pulling of the tactical strings almost saw them manage the great escape.

But the loss of four winning points means they are facing a uphill struggle to qualify for next season's European Rugby Champions Cup and it's all hands to the pump against northern hemisphere big guns as they seek to stay in the hunt.

Anscombe, a Super 15 title winner who guided New Zealand Under-20s to Junior World Championship glory four years ago, has already become a key figure in former All Blacks hooker Hammett's battle-plan.

"He's had four [outsidehalf] starts and is a likeable bloke - he's fitted in very well," said the ex-boss of the Wellington-based Hurricanes Super Rugby franchise. "Gareth leads well on the field and certainly shows a lot of bravery on defence and his line-kicking has been good.

"He said he would like his goal-kicking to be better but, having said that, it's not been too bad."

Hammett, pictured, was cautious in his response when asked if he thought the23-yearold would make the cut for his pal Wales coach Gatland's squad for the Six Nations and the huge opener with England at the Millennium Stadium on February 6. "I have no idea - that's for 'Gats' to decide. He would add certain things to Wales but, luckily for me, Gats can wrestle with that," he replied.

Ospreys pivot Dan Biggar has a place nailed down and is favourite to wear No.10 in the cross-border clash after guiding Wales to a rare triumph over a southern hemisphere big gun, South Africa in the final Test of the autumn campaign.

Anscombe is battling with Gloucester's James Hook, who like the New Zealandborn talent can also play full-back, and specialist outside-half Rhys Priestland to join Biggar in Gatland's party.

"Gareth can certainly spark a back-line, not just with his ability to run but with the fluidness of his passing. He's still learning about his team-mates, the calibre [of player] we have and how he can direct things," said Hammett.

"He's a sponge. He's the first guy on the training paddock and the last off it."

Hammett is looking forwards to locking horns with Leinster, who have lifted the European Cup three times in recent years and won back-to-back Pro12 titles to equal Ospreys' record haul of four.

The 29-times capped hooker was a key man in the the Canterbury-based Crusaders squad which dominated Super Rugby.

"I know, when I was at the Crusaders, people spoke of us as the benchmark for southern hemisphere rugby and they at the same time they we saying that about Leinster in the northern," said Hammett.

"When you look at their record, whether it's in Europe or the league playoffs, it's impressive." Cardiff Blues: J Tuculet; A Cuthbert, C Allen, G Evans, L Amorosino; G Anscombe, T Knoyle; G Jenkins (capt), K Dacey, A Jones, L Reed, J Hoeata, J Turnbull, S Warburton, J Navidi. Reps: M Rees, S Hobbs, T Filise, M Normandale, M Vosawai, L Williams, G Davies, A Thomas. Leinster: R Kearney (capt); F McFadden, B Te'o, N Reid, D Kearney; J Gopperth, L McGrath; M Bent, S Cronin, M Moore, T Denton, K Douglas, D Ryan, J Murphy, J Conan. Reps: R Strauss, J Hagan, T Furlong, M McCarthy, J Van Der Flier, E Reddan, I Madigan, D Fanning. Referee: Neil Paterson (Scotland).

Gareth Anscombe goes head-to-head with another Kiwi in Wasps-bound Jimmy Gopperth at the Arms Park today
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 10, 2015
Words:808
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