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London Irish 41 Cardiff Blues 35

First Team News | 2nd April 2021

Cardiff Blues suffered a heart-breaking last gasp defeat to London Irish in a thrilling European Challenge Cup knockout encounter.

In a back-and-forth tussle, the visitors went into the lead following Kristian Dacey and Josh Adams scores.

The hosts were reduced to 14 early in the second half after Will Goodrick-Clarke was sent off for a high tackle, but Irish pulled things level through the influential OIlie Hassell-Collins.

Scores from Jason Harries and Lloyd Williams looked to have put the visitors in a commanding position, but back came the hosts as Hepetema replied almost instantly.

Hassell-Collins grabbed a second to edge London Irish ahead in the final 10, but Jarrod Evans' drop goal gave Cardiff a late lead.

However, a Curtis Rona try at the death ensure London Irish's place in the final eight, as two-times winners Cardiff were heartbreakingly knocked out of Europe.

Cardiff Blues made an assured start to the encounter, earning penalties from their driving line out and work at the breakdown.

Jarrod Evans had the opportunity to open the scoring on four minutes but his long-range effort ricocheted off the left upright and back into play for Irish to clear.

Both teams enjoyed plenty of possession in a fast and furious opening 10 minutes and Paddy Jackson also fired wide early on.

He made amends with a simple penalty on 13 minutes to take the lead before the game burst into lift.

Cardiff had a gilt edged chance to open the scoring as Jarrod Evans hit Josh Navidi with a flat pass and the back-row played a tip ball to put Cory Hill galloping through.

Hill drew the last man and fire a pass inside to the onrushing Tomos Williams, who was unable to take the ball, which was perhaps marginally behind.

London Irish went on the counter and then kicked long but Evans ran possession back before releasing Rey Lee-Lo on the outside. 

He skipped past one tackler before offloading to Josh Turnbull, who found Matthew Morgan before the opportunity petered out. The Blues went through the phases and earned a penalty.

They turned down a simple shot at goal and took a tap, which paid dividends as Navidi and Dillon Lewis helped Dacey power over.

Evans slotted the extras and within a matter of minutes Dai Young’s men claimed a second stunning try.

London Irish had been attacking on the 22 when possession was lost in contact and Dacey pounced. He surged forward and put Seb Davies away.

The second-row cantered away with his ginormous stride and all bets were on him passing inside to Williams, who had plenty to do. But the Wales international displayed vision and a skill set any fly-half would be proud of and dinked a kick through to space on the right with his left foot. 

Adams displayed his devastating pace to win the footrace, hacked on and then displayed nerves of steel to wait for the bounce and finish a fine try.

Evans was again on target to make it 3-14 and they enjoyed further opportunities as they played with a licence to thrill.

The fly-half added a penalty on 28 minutes to stretch the Blues lead further before the Exiles responded.

Paddy Jackson came on the switch to take the ball from Nick Phipps, he passed inside to Ben Loader, who burst through a hole for his third European score of the season.

Jackson converted to cut Cardiff’s lead to seven points with ten minutes of the half remaining.

He kept the scoreboard ticking as the hosts enjoyed a bring period to finish the half at 13-17.

There was a major talking point within five minutes of the restart as London Irish loose-head Will Goodrick-Clarke was given his marching orders.

The prop was caught flat-footed and made a clumsy tackle on Dillon Lewis with the TMO intervening for a foul-play review. Replays showed Goodrick-Clarke had led with his head and made contact with Lewis’ head. 

With the current protocols the referee had no choice but to shown a red card and Evans nailed the ensuing penalty to make it 13-20.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, Irish soon levelled the scores as they hit-back with a second try. Theo Brophy Clews embarked on an arcing run and put Ollie Hassell-Collins away for a simple try. Jackson converted expertly from the touchline to make it 20-20.

Irish were reduced to 13 on 53 minutes as Ben Loader led with an elbow into contact and caught the throat of Tomos Williams. Another red card was a harsh possibility for the hosts but replays showed initial contact was made with Williams’ chest and the offence reduced to a yellow card,

Jason Harries was introduced when Lee-Lo hobbled off with a lower leg injury and Josh Adams moved to the centre. He was soon down for extended treatment but thankfully recovered to continue. 

Cardiff Blues regained the lead as the hour mark approached with a clever kick from Adams pining the Exiles back. Josh Turnbull owned the skies to steal line out possession and after they gained composure in the red zone possession was read to the right and Halaholo sent Harries over the whitewash with a fine miss-pass.

Evans’ touchline effort faded wide of the uprights but Cardiff Blues were now in a commanding position and minutes later they bagged a fourth try.

With possession deep in the London Irish half, Evans took the ball on the left with Adams hitting a hard inside line. The ball was flashed to Harries who powered through two defenders and off-loaded out of the covering tackle to Lloyd Williams. 

The replacement scrum-half dummied outside to beat one man and he then had enough to stretch over. Evans converted to make it 20-32 with little more than 15 minutes remaining.

Still, London Irish refused to throw in the towel and they threatened another try of their own when Jackson jinked past a couple of defenders.  But with the pressure on, Cory Hill swooped for a turnover and Belcher grasped possession for his side to clear.

However, the hosts secured the try they were searching for when Terrence Hepetema powered through some stretched defence to set up a tense finale. 

And with the clock counting down to the last five minutes Hassell-Collins took an inside ball from Jackson to finish a devastating try.

The score levelled affairs and Jackson added the conversion to give his side a two-point lead with the clock now past 76 minutes. 

Outside half Evans struck a drop goal with three minutes remaining to edge the visitors back ahead, but the heartbreak was yet to come for Dai Young's men.

Hassell-Collins once again broke the line, taking his side into the 22, and despite a stunning Adams cover tackle, the home side remained patient, with Rona eventually crossing under the sticks for the match winner.