Blues battle into semi-finals
October 31, 2008
Ma'maa Molitika breaks through the Bath defence to score
© Getty Images
Cardiff Blues reached the semi-finals of the Anglo-Welsh Cup, but neither they nor their opponents could really believe it.
Bath controlled most of the game but were kept at bay by tremendous defence, while the Blues' ability to grab points on each of their rare trips into the English club's half proved decisive in a nail-biting encounter.
Unforced errors by the Blues, notably when Jason Spice and Ben Blair left a kick to each other, ended with Bath taking the lead through a penalty from giant full-back Jack Cuthbert.
But the home side hit back immediately, fly-half Nicky Robinson feeding an inside pass to brother Jamie for the centre to shrug off a tackle and send flanker Maama Molitika under the posts for Blair to convert.
Offences by the Bath front row gave Blair the opportunity to kick two penalties from virtually the same spot 40 yards out, but from then until the interval it was backs to the wall for the Blues.
Rugby league convert Shontayne Hape, number eight Daniel Browne and wing Andrew Higgins began to find gaps in the Welsh rearguard, but some tremendous tackling kept them at bay.
The visitors also contributed to their own failure to capitalise on massive advantages in territory and possession. Browne lost the ball in a tackle after trying to barge through despite an overlap on the right and there were numerous examples of the last pass going astray.
With half-time statistics showing the Blues had made 97 tackles in the first period, Bath must have been amazed that they were still 10 points behind.
It was the Blues who attacked early in the second period, but they too were unable to reach the line and their pressure ended with Spice sending a drop goal attempt wide.
Bath soon restored their first-half supremacy and that pressure saw Wales squad man Tom Shanklin sent to the sin-bin while wing Joe Maddock slotted over the penalty. However, a penalty conceded from the restart enabled Blair to restore the gap.
Bath skipper Alex Crockett broke from a ruck and raced 50 yards before once again heroic defence kept the visitors out. Maddock then cut through to be halted just short by a high tackle from Spice. Referee Nigel Owens immediately awarded a penalty try, but Maddock incredibly missed the easy conversion when Blues wing Richard Mustoe raced from his line to charge it down.
Encouraged, the Blues came back into things, but Blair was wide with a penalty and Jamie Robinson was hauled back for a knock-on. A clearance kick by Bath fly-half Shaun Berne was charged down by Deiniol Jones, and from the resulting five-yard scrum prop Taufa'ao Filise forced his way over.
Bath stormed back once more with a gallop by Samoan replacement Jonny Faamatuainu, breaking through tackles, ending with Higgins sprinting in for a try which Berne converted. But that was it for Bath, with Blair having the final word with an injury-time penalty after visiting replacement Stuart Hooper was given a yellow card.
Cardiff Blues (13) 24. Tries: Molitika, Filise. Cons: Blair. Pens: Blair 4.
Bath (3) 18. Tries: Penalty, Higgins. Cons: Berne. Pens: Cuthbert, Maddock.
Cardiff Blues: Blair, Mustoe, J. Robinson, Shanklin, James, N. Robinson, Spice, Yapp, G. Williams, Filise, Jones, Tito, Molitika, Sowden-Taylor, Lewis.
Replacements: G. Powell for Yapp (31), Morgan for Tito (63), M. Williams for Lewis (63). Not Used: G. Thomas, Sweeney, Rees, Johnson.
Sin Bin: Shanklin (52).
Bath: Cuthbert, Maddock, Crockett, Hape, Higgins, Berne, Bemand, Flatman, Dixon, Bell, Short, Grewcock, Beattie, Scaysbrook, Browne.
Replacements: Cheeseman for Cuthbert (44), Catt for Flatman (59), Hawkins for Dixon (76), Jarvis for Bell (53), Hooper for Grewcock (41), Faamatuainu for Beattie (47). Not Used: Baxter.
Sin Bin: Hooper (80).
Ref: Nigel Owens (WRFU).
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker
It is 100 years this week since the last international match played in Europe before the outbreak of World War One. Rewind remembers the fixture's longest-living survivor