Two former winners of the European Challenge Cup travelled to the Basque city of Bilbao, and the mesmerising San Mames Stadium, for what would be a dramatic and epic encounter, writing the latest chapter of the history between Cardiff Blues and Gloucester Rugby.
Cardiff Blues 31 Gloucester Rugby 30
Friday 11 May 2018, 9.00pm, San Mames Stadium, Bilbao
Wales’ Capital Region kicked off the game showcasing the dangerous attacking game that got them to Bilbao in the first place. A chip kick in midfield from Gareth Anscombe found Willis Halaholo, but the centre lost possession in contact, after stepping past one defender.
Jarrod Evans put Cardiff Blues on the board early on, but the Welsh outfit were dealt a major early blow, as Josh Navidi was forced off with injury. He would be replaced by Olly Robinson.
Gloucester struck back with the game’s opening try, as Billy Burns’ perfectly executed kick found Henry Trinder in the corner, who touched down under the challenge of Blaine Scully.
The American wing was denied a try of his own moments later, before Billy Twelvetrees extended Gloucester’s lead from the tee.
Owen Lane was also forced off with injury, and despite Lewis Ludlow being denied a try, after Josh Hohneck’s offload was judged forward, they did cross for a stunning second score on the verge of half time.
Lovely interplay down the left from Mark Atkinson, Twelvetrees, Trinder and Callum Braley saw the scrum-half surge upfield, before returning to Atkinson who had a clear path to the line.
Gloucester went into the interval with a 20-6 lead.
Cardiff Blues knew they needed to respond early in the second half, and knew it would take a moment of magic to unlock the stern Cherry and Whites defence.
It only took 45 seconds, as Gareth Anscombe chipped and collected before sending another kick inside. The footrace was on between scrum halves, Tomos Williams and Braley, but the young Welshman hacked ahead despite the effort to illegaly bring him down.
The ball bounced off the base of the post, and the electric scrum half showed unbelievable skill to gather the ball at pace and touchdown under the sticks.
Evans kept the scoreboard ticking, and Gloucester were shell-shocked as Danny Wilson’s side went over for a quickfire second try.
Young outside half, Evans, was the instigator this time. His poke through was collected by replacement Garyn Smith, who touched down.
The lead didn’t last long, as Gloucester went back ahead with James Hanson dotting down from the base of a drive.
But the drama was only starting.
With three minutes remaining, man-of-the-match, Robinson, sent Scully through in the corner. This time there was no denying the man from Sacramento, as the TMO confirmed he had slid in, despite pressure from Twelvetrees.
Anscombe’s penalty attempt sailed wide, leaving the Blues a two-points adrift and having it all to do in the final two minutes.
The Welsh international, who was now at outside half, went for the risky option, and a pinpoint crossfield kick from deep found Smith on the outside.
Smith hacked ahead to the open space, and chased perfectly to pose himself over Marshall and force the Kiwi to concede a penalty.
Anscombe made no mistake from out wide this time, with one of the most dramatic of finals coming to an end, as Cardiff Blues had their hands on the Challenge Cup trophy for the second time.
Cardiff Blues: Gareth Anscombe; Owen Lane, Rey Lee-Lo, Willis Halaholo, Blaine Scully; Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams; Rhys Gill, Kristian Dacey, Taufa’ao Filise, Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, Nick Williams
Replacements: Kirby Myhill, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Damian Welch, Olly Robinson, Lloyd Williams, Garyn Smith, Matthew Morgan
Gloucester Rugby: Jason Woodward; Tom Marshall, Billy Twelvetrees, Mark Atkinson, Henry Trinder; Billy Burns, Callum Braley; Josh Hohneck, James Hanson, John Afoa, Ed Slater, Mariano Galarza, Jake Polledri, Lewis Ludlow, Ruan Ackermann
Replacements: Motu Matu’u, Val Rapava Ruskin, Fraser Balmain, Jeremy Thrush, Ben Morgan, Ben Vellacott, Andy Symons, Tom Hudson
Cardiff Blues kicked off their Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a stunning victory at Lyon, and will return to the Arms Park to take on Glasgow Warriors on Sunday.
Be there to support the boys! Tickets are available now and can be purchased by clicking here or calling 029 20 302030.