European Rugby Challenge Cup final
Cardiff Blues 31 Gloucester Rugby 30
Gareth Anscombe kept his cool to kick Blues to a last gasp victory in the European Rugby Challenge Cup final to set up a possible European double for the Guinness PRO12 in Bilbao.
The Blues looked down and out at half-time when they trailed by 14 points after being overpowered by Gloucester for most of the opening 40 minutes. But a burst of 17 unanswered points at the start of the second half the Welsh region turned things around before coming back a second time to win the game at the death.
Full marks to Anscombe for stepping up to kick the 39 metre penalty from a wide angle with less than two minutes on the clock having moments earlier missed a touchline conversion attempt of Blaine Scully’s try that would have regained the lead.
It didn’t help the Welsh region’s cause that they lost back row man Josh Navidi in only the seventh minute with a shoulder injury and then saw wing Owen Lane leave the fray with a similar injury 20 minutes later.
Those injuries upset the rhythm of the PRO14 side and they found themselves 14 points adrift at the break despite taking the lead in the fourth minute thanks to a Jarrod Evans penalty off the 10 metre line.
Everyone expected the English Premiership outfit to stay true to their ‘no fear’ running rugby, but outside half Billy Burns stunned the Blues defence by kicking more often than not.
It was his cross-field kick five metres out from the Blues line that enabled Henry Trinder to score a try in the left corner that Billy Twelvetrees converted superbly off the touchline. That try launched a concerted period of pressure from the 2006 and 2015 champions, but they had to scramble in defence to save their line before increasing their lead.
The Blues went on a blindside raid and worked Ray Lee-lo and Blaine Scully clear in the Gloucester 22. The Tongan centre’s pass to the American wing was too early, though, and that allowed Callum Braley to drag one leg into touch as Scully stretched to score.
Evans made up for that disappointment by adding a second penalty, but the rest of the half was a tale of increasing Gloucester domination. Twelvetrees penalised Seb Davies for a breakdown infringement and then the England centre created the space for Trinder to break clear from half-way and pave the way for a Mark Atkinson try.
Twelvetrees improved that score and then brought the first-half to a close with a penalty that made it 20-6 to a dominant Gloucester. The Blues were down, and in many eyes out, but whatever was said at half-time made a significant difference.
Within a minute of the re-start a moment of magic by Gareth Anscombe, who kicked ahead, regathered and then kicked ahead again, was followed by an incredible moment of skill by scrum half Tomos Williams. He hacked ahead, held off two defenders and then stooped to pick up the ball after it had hit the post pad and crossed for the try.
Evans added the extras, punished Jake Polledri for a mindless offence at a ruck and then made a second try for Garyn Smith with a brilliant grub kick in the Gloucester 22. The outside half then converted the try off the touchline and within 15 minutes of the re-start the Blues were ahead 23-20. Their purple patch didn’t last, however, and after Tomas Williams had wasted a penalty near half-way by trying to take it too quickly, and knocking-on, Gloucester turned a five metre line-out into a try for Aussie hooker James Hanson.
Twelvetrees converted and then kicked a penalty that gave the Blues a mountain to climb once again in the final quarter with a seven point deficit. They managed to cut the gap to two points with a corner try for Scully with Lewis Ludlow in the sin-bin, but the touchline conversion went just wide.
Then came the Garyn Smith charge down the left hand touchline and chase to earn the penalty at the breakdown with a jackle on Tom Marshall that allowed Anscombe to win the game.
Cardiff Blues: Tries: T Williams, G Smith, B Scully; Cons: J Evans 2; Pens: J Evans 3, G Anscombe.
Tries: H Trinder, M Atkinson, J Hanson; Cons: B Twelvetrees 3; Pens: B Twelvetrees 3
G Anscombe; O Lane (G Smith 28), R Lee-Lo, W Halaholo, B Scully; J Evans (M Morgan 68), T Williams (L Williams 68); R Gill (B Thyer 59), K Dacey, T Filise (S Andrews 41), S Davies, J Turnbull, J Navidi (O Robinson 7), E Jenkins (captain), N Williams (D Welch ) Rep Unused: K Myhill
J Woodward; T Marshall, B Twelvetrees, M Atkinson, H Trinder; B Burns (A Symons 68, T Hudson 76), C Braley; J Hohneck (V Rapava Ruskin 59), J Hanson (M Matu’u 59), J Afoa (F Balmain 59), E Slater, M Galarza (J Thursh 51-60, 76), J Polledri, L Ludlow, R Ackermann (B Morgan 68) Rep Unused: B Vellacott, Referee: J Garces (France)
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved