Memorable Moments of the Decade: A Night in Paris

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When it comes to famous European wins the Cardiff Blues list is fairly lengthy, at least when compared to those of the other Welsh regions, and a number will feature in this series over the next few days.

One that is perhaps not as talked about as others is this game from 11th November 2011, as we headed to Paris for the start of the season’s Heineken Cup for an encounter with new big spenders on the scene Racing Metro, as they were then known.

Cardiff Blues at the time were at the beginning of a brave new world, with someone that wasn’t David Young at the helm for the first season since regional rugby was introduced in 2003.

Young’s old assistants Justin Burnell and Gareth Baber were the men to take over and had got off to an inauspicious start, with three wins from six games during the 2011 Rugby World Cup period ahead of trying to bounce back from a disappointing Heineken Cup campaign the season before.

Racing Metro were an unknown quantity having only gained promotion to the Top14 two seasons before and were off the back of finishing second to Toulouse in the French top division, but had plenty of top class players in their ranks.

Fijian international Sireli Bobo was on one wing, club legend Henry Chavancy at centre, and Argentinian big names Juan Imhoff and Juan Martin Hernandez were on the other wing and at fly-half respectively.

Hugely experienced international props in Italian Andrea Lo Cicero and Argentinian Juan Pablo Orlandi were up front while Springbox Jacques Cronje captained the side from eight, and on the bench was big second row Lionel Nallet as well as a young Virimi Vakatawa.

Cardiff Blues, on the other hand, were boosted by the return of five of the six players who had been involved in the World Cup just a few weeks before, including Sam Warburton who was returning to action for the first time since being sent off against France in that infamous semi-final.

It was someone else returning from the tournament in New Zealand who opened the scoring though, as the King of Tonga himself Fa’ao Filise pounced on a loose ball at a breakdown and jogged over for what would be his second last try for the club despite spending another six and a half years with us.

In a hugely physical encounter both Jamie Roberts and James Down were lost early in the game, with the latter in particular suffering a nasty broken ankle, while Racing full-back Gaetan Germain and fly-half Juan Hernandez were kicking penalties and dropping goals between them.

Fortunately Dan Parks was up to the task of keeping track with them for the away side, with one penalty in particular a beauty from halfway at the Stade Yves du Manoir, and when the time came to convert another try he was on target once more.

A strong break up the left from Tom James saw Cardiff Blues enter the opposition 22 and the ball was transferred back to the right wing well for a young Alex Cuthbert to finish brilliantly in the corner on his Heineken Cup debut.

The lead was 14-17 at half-time and when Dan Parks continued to win the kicking battle, both on the tee and out of hand, in the second half the win was sewn up. Three penalties to two saw us come out 20-26 winners and record a first win in France since the 2010 Amlin Challenge Cup Final.

We would go on to have an indifferent Pro12 season that saw us finish seventh in Burnell and Baber’s only season in charge, but in Europe only a defeat away to Edinburgh was suffered as we qualified for the quarter-finals at the best runner-up in the pool stages.

Unfortunately Cardiff Blues didn’t get beyond a trip to the Aviva Stadium to play Leinster, but that was definitely the high of the season in what was the last campaign before many of the heroes of Marseille moved on the following summer.

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