Cardiff Blues found themselves in a competitive pool for the 2011/12 Heineken Cup, matched alongside London Irish, Edinburgh and French giants, Racing 92.
Racing Metro 20 Cardiff Blues 26
Friday 11 Nov 2011, 9.00pm, Stade Yves du Manoir
On the opening night of the competition, Cardiff Blues travelled to the French capital to face a star-studded Racing Metro side, containing internationals such as Sireli Bobo, Andrea Lo Cicero and Argentina star duo, Juan Imhoff and Juan Martin Hernandez.
Meanwhile, the visitors were boosted by the presence of Gethin Jenkins, Jamie Roberts, Lloyd Williams and Sam Warburton, who were all returning following a stunning Rugby World Cup campaign with Wales, where they reached the semi final in New Zealand.
Racing built an early lead thanks to a Gaeran Germain penalty and a drop goal from Hernandez.
However, the Blues came storming back into it, as Taufa’ao Filise snuck over for a rare try, with Dan Parks’ conversion giving them the lead.
Germain and Parks would exchange penalties before speed-merchant Imhoff crossed for the hosts. However, there was a quick reply from the visitors, with rookie Alex Cuthbert squeezing over in the corner, following a Chris Czekaj break.
Germain looked to boot Racing back into the game, but Parks remained one step ahead of his counterpart, closing out a stunning victory for a perfect start to the campaign.
Racing 92: Gaetan Germain; Sireli Bobo, Henry Chavancy, Fabrice Estebanez, Juan Imhoff; Juan Martin Hernandez, Mathieu Loree; Andrea Lo Cicero, Benjamin Noirot, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Karim Ghezal, Jone Qovu Nailiko, Johnny Leo’o, Antoine Battut, Jacques Cronje
Replacements: Thomas Bianchin, Eddy Ben Arous, Johannes Coetzee, Lionel Nallet, Nicolas Durand, Jonathan Wisniewski, Virimi Vakatawa, Remy Vaquin
Cardiff Blues: Chris Czekaj; Alex Cuthbert, Casey Laulala, Jamie Roberts, Tom James; Dan Parks, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins, T Rhys Thomas, Taufa’ao Filise, Bradley Davies, James Down, Michael Paterson, Sam Warburton, Xavier Rush
Replacements: Marc Breeze, John Yapp, Scott Andrews, Paul Tito, Andries Pretorius, Richie Rees, Ceri Sweeney, Gavin Evans
Cardiff Blues 36 Racing Metro 30
Saturday 22 Jan 2012, 3.15pm, Cardiff City Stadium
In the return leg, Racing were bolstered by further internationals in the form of Francois Steyn, Josh Matavesi and ‘The Caveman’, Sebastien Chabal.
The home side went into the clash with four wins from five Heineken Cup games, with the only defeat coming on the road against Edinburgh, who had a record to match.
Despite an early Jonathan Wisniewski penalty, Cardiff Blues got off to a stormer as scrum half Lloyd Williams charged down the scrum half to give his side the lead.
Halfpenny converted, but before the Welsh international exchanged penalties with Wisniewski.
Racing went ahead after 20 minutes, as Fijian Josh Matavesi, who would go on to play for Ospreys later in his career, squeezed in at the corner.
The first half entertainment continued, and it was time for Alex Cuthbert to get in on the act. The wing, who was fresh from making his Welsh debut a month earlier, finished after Halfpenny put him in space.
A Bobo try followed by a long distance Steyn penalty gave the visitors a point advantage at the interval.
Cuthbert went over for his second early in the second half after Racing failed to deal with a Dan Parks high kick.
However, it became a kicking battle for the rest of the half, but Halfpenny kept his side ahead, despite the best efforts of Steyn and Sebastien Descons.
Cardiff Blues sealed qualification for the quarter final, but were outclassed by a Brian O’Driscoll-inspired Leinster side in Dublin.
Cardiff Blues: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Casey Laulala, Gavin Evans, Chris Czekaj; Dan Parks, Lloyd Williams; Gethin Jenkins, Ryan Tyrrell, Scott Andrews, Bradley Davies, Paul Tito, Michael Paterson, Sam Warburton, Xavier Rush
Replacements: Marc Breeze, John Yapp, Sam Hobbs, Ma’ama Molitika, Josh Navidi, Richie Rees, Ceri Sweeney, Tom James
Racing 92: Josh Matavesi; Henry Chavancy, Francois Steyn, Fabrice Estebanez, Sireli Bobo; Jonathan Wisniewski, Sebastien Descons; Mikaele Tu’ughala, Benjamin Noirot, Benjamin Salemane Sa, Karim Ghezal, Francois van der Merwe, Johnny Leo’o, Antoine Battut, Sebastien Chabal
Replacements: Grégory Arganese, Eddy Ben Arous, Juan Pablo Orlandi, Jone Qovu Nailiko, Mathieu Loree, Juan Imhoff, Remy Vaquin, Jacques Cronje