Gareth Anscombe’s 78th-minute penalty helped Cardiff Blues snatch a last-gasp 31-30 Challenge Cup Final victory over Gloucester on Friday night.
In an absorbing and absolutely breathless game of rugby, Gloucester and The Blues served up arguably one of the greatest European Challenge Cup Finals, the Welsh Region remarkably turning around a 20-6 half-time deficit to bring to an end an eight year wait for silverware.
Jarrod Evans slotted an early penalty for the Blues in an opening twenty minutes that really set the tone for the match, with both sides looking to play with width, power and at pace.
The Cherry and Whites soon responded when Billy Burns kicked cross-field for Harry Trinder to gather and score. The teams then traded penalties, before Mark Atkinson scored Gloucester’s second try, a beautifully worked team score down the left wing. The Blues looked out of the game.
Wales’ Capital Region looked a different team after half time, Gareth Anscombe’s delicious kick-ahead and Tomos Williams’ superb footballing skills saw the scrum half touch down under the posts in the 41st minute, launching the most thrilling of comebacks.
The game turned into a see-saw spectacle, with Gloucester briefly looking on the ropes before scoring a third try from a powerful catch and drive. And, when their lead was further extended by a Billy Twelvetrees penalty, it looked like the Blues’ European dream was over.
However, a Blaine Scully try kept their hopes alive and, although Anscombe missed with the resulting conversion, leaving the Blues two points adrift, he was gifted a second shot at goal when the Blues forced a penalty in the dying minutes.
This time he made no mistake, showing nerves of steel to slot the ball over from out wide.
The Blues still had work to do, however, and had to gather the restart through the forwards before Anscombe could kick the ball into touch, sending the Blues fans into raptures.
Massive congratulations to everyone involved at the Blues, it’s been a truly remarkable season. Brilliant to see Head Coach Danny Wilson leave on a massive high, and I’m sure this will always rank among his greatest career achievements, and will be a game that he will always remember.
The Blues march on to the Champions Cup for next season!
While the Blues can hang up their boots and think about the summer break, Ospreys and Scarlets season continues, with Scarlets the sole Welsh side in the Pro14 knockout stages. This week they will face a determined Glasgow in Scotstoun in the first semi-final. One of those teams will meet Leinster or Munster in what will undoubtedly be a colossal Final in Dublin in two weeks time. Scarlets will be without Leigh Halfpenny, but will hope to take momentum from their 43-8 hammering of Cheetahs in the quarter final stages.
Ospreys are in Belfast on Sunday to face Ulster in a Champions Cup Qualifier play-off match – the first of its kind in the league, as a result of the new conference system. Ulster prevailed 8-0 when the sides met in the league last month, but this time will be without lock Iain Henderson and Captain Rory Best. Ospreys will be fully-loaded, and arrive having most recently beaten the Blues in Judgement Day at the end of April, so will be confident and ready to go. Victory will guarantee three Welsh sides in next season’s Champions Cup, and it’s been too long since that last happened. All the best, lads.