Blues crush Gloucester for Anglo-Welsh glory
April 18, 2009
The Blues' Leigh Halfpenny races away to score the opening try of the game
© Getty Images
Cardiff Blues romped to a 50-12 victory over Gloucester in the Anglo-Welsh Cup Final at Twickenham.
The Magners League side ran in a total of seven tries, including two each for winger Leigh Halfpennny and fullback Ben Blair, as they outclassed their Guinness Premiership rivals with a superb display of all-round rugby to clinch their first piece of silverware since the formation of the regional side.
Halfpenny's brace and another from fellow speedster Tom James saw the Welsh side take control of the clash in the first period before Blair, Ceri Sweeney and Tom Shanklin finished off the rout after the break. Five conversions and a penalty ensured Blair finished the game with a personal tally of 23 points. Gloucester threatened to make a game of it with a first half score from Mark Foster but a late penalty try was just a consolation as they suffered their fourth successive final defeat at the home of English rugby.
Fresh from booking their place in the Heineken Cup semi-finals with victory over Toulouse last weekend, the Blues kicked on with a dazzling display of strength and ambition to extend Wales' stranglehold on the competition. The performance will have also impressed the watching Lions coach Ian McGeechan as he finalises his tour party for South Africa that will be announced on Tuesday.
The Blues began brightly and exerted all the early pressure, looking assured and full of confidence but were dealt a early blow with an arm injury to scrum-half Jason Spice inside two minutes. Blair then pulled a penalty chance wide of the posts before Gloucester fly-half Ryan Lamb also failed to find the target but the game burst into life on ten minutes with arguably the best try seen at Twickenham for some time.
Fly-half Nicky Robinson sparked a glorious move by scything through the Gloucester defence before Martyn Williams and Halfpenny combined well to take the attack to the Gloucester 22. A sublime passage of quick handling culminated with replacement scrum-half Richie Rees off-loading behind his back to Halfpenny who raced in for the opening try that was converted by Robinson.
The Blues' backrow were completely dominating their Gloucester counterparts, with Xavier Rush and Man of the Match Martyn Williams delivering a master-class, ensuring the quick ball that caused Gloucester so many problems throughout the opening period.
A shove on Halfpenny, unseen by officials, may have prevented another try but Blair then extended his side's lead with a penalty. The second try followed midway through the half with missed tackles costing Gloucester once again. Centre Jamie Roberts shrugged off the defence and conjured an opening with support from Shanklin before the ever-influential Martyn Williams showed great vision to draw the defence before off-loading to Halfpenny who skipped in for his second score.
Blair's conversion nailed home their advantage before hooker Gareth Williams went close to heaping more woe on Gloucester - another desperate tackle bundling him into touch following a smart lineout move. Back came Gloucester with a try from Mark Foster on a rare foray into Blues territory. A long pass from Ryan Lamb found skipper Gareth Delve before Foster showed good strength to force his way over.
But the Blues would have the final say in the half with another notable try - this time from James who showed great spatial awareness to twist his body and touch down in the corner despite a last-ditch tackle from Lamb.
Gloucester began the second half with visibly more intent but were unable to unlock the Blues. However they managed to hold out until just past the hour mark when Blair notched his first try. Robinson claimed a high ball before launching a counter-attack and was ably supported by Gethin Jenkins who underlined his ability with a surging run before feeding Blair with a well-timed scoring pass.
They were soon celebrating again when replacement Ceri Sweeney pounced as Gloucester fatally allowed a ball to bounce in midfield. To their credit Gloucester rallied and Gareth Cooper went close before his pack were rewarded with a penalty try.
But it was just a momentary high point with the try-hungry Blues responding with two final scores. James rampaged into the heart of the Gloucester defence before off-loading to Martyn Williams who immediately flicked the ball back inside to a grateful Blair. The rout was completed with Shanklin taking advantage of a Gloucester side drained by a hefty tackle count to canter in for the final try.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; L Halfpenny, T Shanklin, J Roberts, T James; N Robinson, J Spice; G Jenkins, G Williams, T Filise, B Davies, P Tito (capt), M Molitika, M Williams, X Rush.
Replacements: J Yapp for Jenkins 69, Rhys Thomas for Williams 61, D Jones for Davies 65, A Powell for Molitika 55, R Rees for Spice 2, C Sweeney for Robinson 67, G Thomas for Halfpenny 67.
Gloucester: O Morgan; M Watkins, J Simpson-Daniel, A Allen, M Foster; R Lamb, R Lawson; N Wood, O Azam, G Somerville; W James, A Brown, L Narraway, A Qera, G Delve (capt)
Replacements: S Lawson for Azam 61, C Nieto for Wood 66, M Bortolami for James 51, A Hazell for Qera 57, G Cooper for Lawson 57, O Barkley for Lamb 64, C Sharples.
Referee: Alain Rolland (IRFU)
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
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