Memorable Moments of the Decade: Semi-Final Days

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Of course this wouldn’t be a Cardiff Blues memorable moments of the decade list without including European Challenge Cup Finals in Marseille and Bilbao, but before them were two days that were equally as important over the last 10 years.

The first of those came on 1st May 2010 when, having comfortably won away at Newcastle Falcons in the quarter-final, Dai Young took his squad to Adams Park in Wycombe, then the home of Wasps.

There was plenty to be concerned about before kick-off with the memory of penalty shoot-out heartbreak in a European semi-final against Leicester Tigers 12 months previously, an injury crisis leaving Darren Allinson as the only fit scrum-half in the squad and some heavy rain leaving standing water on the pitch.

In tricky conditions the senior players come to the fore, and while Wasps could call on the likes of Phil Vickery, Simon Shaw, Joe Worsley and Paul Sackey, as well as Serge Betsen and Danny Cipriani on the bench, all Cardiff Blues needed was Xavier Rush.

The big number eight carried a whopping 24 times, commenting afterwards that it was “a game that guts was going to win it, not panache and fleshy stuff”, with one of his carries leading to the first try of the game as Leigh Halfpenny went over on the right wing.

Wasps fly-half Dave Walder kept the home side in the game off the kicking tee, but a yellow card for Shaw early in the second half was punished by Gethin Jenkins powering over from close range and Ben Blair converting.

A late yellow card for Scott Andrews made it a nervy ending to the game, but Walder could not kick a late penalty to force what could well have been more extra-time in a European semi-final, and Cardiff Blues were on the plane to Marseille.

Fast-forward eight years and we were back in the Challenge Cup semi-final, this time after overcoming Edinburgh at Murrayfield on Easter Weekend, but the game in the final four was played in somewhat different conditions.

Rather than a windswept and rain-soaked Adams Park it was a beautifully sunny day on the plastic pitch at the Arms Park that awaited Danny Wilson’s men, with French side Section Paloise, better known as Pau, the visitors on 21st April 2018.

While they could call on All Blacks in the shape of Tom Taylor, Frank Halai and the legendary centre Conrad Smith, Cardiff Blues were able to recall Gethin Jenkins to the starting XV while Owen Lane was also fit again to start on the wing.

In front of a capacity crowd the home side got off to a flyer when Jarrod Evans put Seb Davies through a big hole in the Pau defence and after a killer step he found Gareth Anscombe on his shoulder to open the scoring.

There was a slight disaster for Anscombe later in the half when his kick was charged down and Conrad Smith got on the end of a hack through to grab a score levelling try, but Jarrod Evans did brilliantly off the tee to win the kicking battle in the second half.

A 16-10 victory sent Cardiff Blues to Bilbao and ensured that Danny Wilson and Matt Sherratt’s final game as home coaches at the Arms Park was an occasion to remember, as well as maintaining a 100% record in European semi-finals this decade.

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