Blues claim Challenge Cup berth
January 24, 2010
Centre Jamie Roberts touches down for one of his two tries
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Cardiff Blues powered to a 45-20 victory over Harlequins in their Pool 5 clash at The Stoop to claim a place in the European Challenge Cup quarter-finals.
The Welsh side ran in six tries - with centre Jamie Roberts returning to form with a brace - to finish the pool stages on a high and pip Sale Sharks to a place in the last eight of Europe's second tier competition. Gareth Thomas, Ceri Sweeney, Xavier Rush and Ben Blair also touched down for the visitors with the Blues' fullback weighing in with 15 points with the boot. George Lowe, Nick Easter and Danny Care all crossed for Quins but it was not enough to prevent the Premiership side from slumping to their sixth straight European defeat.
The Blues entered the clash knowing they still had a chance of ensuring European rugby in April and named a strong side for the task but were immediately on the back foot with Quins wing David Strettle setting up Lowe for the opeing try of the game with a little over a minute on the clock. Quins increased their lead when Rory Clegg boomed over a penalty from near halfway and Cardiff missed their first kick at goal a minute later when Blair's 35-yard attempt sailed wide.
The visitors finally got on the board after an impressive driving maul stretched Quins before scrum-half Richie Rees fired the ball to the right Gareth Thomas who crossed unopposed with Blair converting. The Blues' pack continued to turn the screw and while some desperate defence held them out initially it did not last. Casey Laulala's wonderfully timed pass sent Blair in to score midway through the half with the Kiwi also adding the conversion.
Quins responded with England No.8 Easter touching down after a battering burst by Chris Brooker but the Blues were soon back on the front foot. Sweeney finished off another tremendous build-up - again involving Laulala, and Blair's conversion put the Welsh in the driving seat. The task facing Quins got even tougher when Easter was sin-binned just past the half hour mark. Quins' demolition seemed complete when Rush rounded off another multi-phased attack with a try on the right, and Blair made it four conversions out of four. But Quins rallied and when Chris Robshaw tapped down a lineout, Care scampered away for a try that was converted by Clegg.
Blair missed two penalties in the first six minutes of the second half, lapses that clearly lifted the home side, who welcomed Easter back from the bin. But a fifth try for the Blues, scored with pace and power between the posts by Lions centre Jamie Roberts, and converted by Blair, took the visitors 15 points clear. That gap was extended further when Blair punished offside with a penalty on the hour.
Try number six sparked a mass exodus of disenchanted home fans as Gary Powell shook off three poor tackles before sending Roberts clear for his second try, and Blair kicked his sixth conversion out of six.
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