Cardiff Rugby and European knockouts

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In over 140 years of Cardiff Rugby there has been plenty of memorable moments, from wins over international touring sides, to Welsh Cup and merit table triumphs, and the sheer amount of British and Irish Lions squad members provided.

Since 1995 brought professionalism to rugby union though, many of Cardiff’s greatest triumphs have come in European competition. From playing in the very first Heineken Cup Final back in 1996, to winning the Amlin Challenge Cup in 2010, games across the continent have often been the highlight of a season.

Saturday will be Cardiff Blues 17th European knockout game, an impressive record in the 21st season of continental competition, and below we’ll have a look back over one or two of those you might have forgotten along the way, or never knew about in the first place!

Leinster 14-23 Cardiff – 1995/96

On the way to that inaugural Heineken Cup Final back in January 1996 there was just one knockout round, as Europe’s premier rugby competition looked a lot different to the format we know today.

The Saturday between Christmas and New Year would see Cardiff travel out to Ireland and face Leinster at Lansdowne Road. Fortunately the players and staff made it out the day before, because when the ninety supporters, committee members and Welsh media attempted to travel on the morning of the game, the plane was cancelled due to ice!

In dreadful Dublin conditions Cardiff produced a fine performance. Tries from Hemi Taylor and Mike Hall, as well as the boot of Adrian Davies and an Andy Moore drop goal secured a win over a Leinster side containing the likes of future Irish playing legend Shane Byrne, international referee Alain Rolland, and loudmouth writer Neil Francis.

Adrian Davies Cardiff
Adrian Davies

Unfortunately we would go on to agonisingly miss out against Toulouse in the Final, but a tone was set for a great future in European competition for Wales’ capital outfit.

Cardiff 24-20 Llanelli Scarlets – 1997/98

If someone were to point out the ‘huge attendance drop’ from old club games to post-2003 regional rugby, then using the 8,000 crowd at the Heineken Cup quarter-final play-off at the Arms Park would be a good start in debunking that myth.

Nevertheless, at the time this was still an excellent Cardiff victory over a Llanelli side that would go on to win the Welsh Cup that season, and the Welsh Premier League the next, albeit without the Blue and Blacks for competition on the later. Those darn rebels!

Despite being just two years on from the run to the 1996 Final, it was a very different Cardiff XV that took to the Arms Park that day, up against a Turk side with future Scarlets legends Rupert Moon, Neil Boobyer and Stephen Jones amongst their ranks, as well as the very expensive Frano Botica.

14 points from the boot of Lee Jarvis as well as tries from Carmarthenshire-born Justin Thomas, and the not so local Polish favourite Gregori Kacala, edged the game for Cardiff, before a robbery would occur in the next round at Bath.

Gregori Kacala
Gregori Kacala carries in one of over 100 games for Cardiff

Cardiff Blues 9-6 Toulouse – 2008/09

Many Cardiff Blues fans will have wiped this campaign from their minds to avoid re-living the pain of the semi-final penalty shootout defeat to Leicester. This Saturday will provide a perfect opportunity to get revenge over Richard Cockerill for that.

However, there was better luck for David Young’s men in the previous round when coming up against a star-studded Toulouse, the French champions and previous season’s Heineken Cup runners-up.

A then record 36,728 people turned up at the Millennium Stadium to see the likes of Thierry Dusautoir, Byron Kelleher, Vincent Clerc and a Freddie Michalak at the peak of his powers, take on a Cardiff outfit with a spine of Paul Tito, Xavier Rush and Ben Blair complimented by the Welsh talent of Gethin Jenkins, Martyn Williams, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny.

What followed was a defensive masterclass from the Blues, as the French side were kept at bay for the entire 80 minutes, with three Blair penalties being enough to see the home team win their first European knockout match since 1997.

Ben Blair
Ben Blair kicked us to victory

Newcastle Falcons 20-55 Cardiff Blues – 2009/10

The very next season there was disappointment for Cardiff Blues as four wins from the six pool stage games were not enough to secure a Heineken Cup quarter-final berth. Instead there was a first for the club, dropping down to the second tier Challenge Cup.

As the top seeded side to drop down from the main competition, Cardiff were drawn up against the fourth seeded Challenge Cup pool winners Newcastle, sending the Welsh side on a long trip to the North-East.

A similar side to that which had beaten Toulouse a season earlier, with the added firepower of Casey Laulala and Chris Czekaj, took to the field at Kingston Park on a beautiful April day and set about opening up an early lead, before letting the Falcons back into the game for a 13-17 half-time score.

However, five tries in the second half, including a superb brace from none other than Fa’ao Filise, saw Cardiff Blues storm to a 20-55 win and set up a semi-final trip to Wasps.

Fa'ao Filise Newcastle
Fa’ao Filise crosses for one of his two tries

The rest, as they say, is history, as Wasps were bypassed on a soaking wet day at Adams Park, before that day in Marseille saw Cardiff Blues lift the first, and so far only, European trophy to be won by a Welsh side.

Our history is there in the record books, but now is the time for this crop of players to write their own chapter. Edinburgh awaits, come on Cardiff!

 

 

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