Memorable Moments of the Decade: Magic in Marseille

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So the final two days of looking back at the memorable moments of the decade are here, and it’s pretty obvious what they are going to be, I think!

We start back on the 23rd May 2010 in glorious sunshine at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille where Cardiff Blues took on the mighty Toulon in the Amlin Challenge Cup Final.

It had been an up-and-down season for Dai Young’s men, with a poor start that saw us win just one of the opening five Celtic League games putting us on the back foot, before two losses in the first four Heineken Cup pool stage games had us playing catch up in that competition too.

In the end it would be a case of missing out in both competitions by small margins, as five wins a row to end the Celtic League season wasn’t enough to stop us missing out on the play-offs by a point, while big wins over Harlequins and Sale in the last two rounds of the Heineken Cup pool stages weren’t enough to stop us missing out on the quarter-finals by a point.

Fortunately in those days three of the top tier competition runners-up dropped down to the Challenge Cup for the knockout stages, and so it came to pass that Cardiff Blues would travel to, and beat, Newcastle and Wasps for a place in the Final.

Fa'ao Filise Newcastle

Despite a number of supporters making the trip to the south of France for a first European Final since Cardiff RFC made the inaugural Heineken Cup Final in 1995/96, they were still outnumbered by a large Toulon contingent who had made the short drive along the Mediterranean coast for the game.

At the time the French side were still an unknown quantity to a degree, having only been in the Top14 for two years, but they had made waves with the signings made by new President Morad Boudjellal and were able to call on the likes of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Jonny Wilkinson and Sonny Bill Williams.

And while their support was more numerous, the Cardiff Blues supporters in attendance were definitely louder, cheering the team on as Ben Blair and Jonny Wilkinson traded penalties to see the score tied at 6-6 with 35 minutes gone.

However, just before the break the Toulon full-back Clement Marienval broke down the left, before Gaby Lovobalavu did the same down the right. We scrambled well but nothing could stop Sonny Bill Williams stepping through the middle of the defence.

With the French side leading Cardiff Blues needed something drastic to happen in the second half and we got a stroke of luck early in the second half when Jonny Wilkinson pulled up injured when taking a penalty.

This reinvigorated Dai Young’s men and just five minutes later we were camped on the Toulon line with Richie Rees doing well to mop up sloppy ball and find Jamie Roberts running a classic angle from inside centre to power over from close range.

With all the momentum behind us, Cardiff Blues continued to keep the scoreboard ticking over as Ben Blair notched two more kicks, before a crucial five minutes between 65 and 70 on the clock.

First, Casey Laulala and Jamie Roberts made half-breaks to surge into Toulon territory before Laulala popped back up in the attacking line and combined with Xavier Rush to send Leigh Halfpenny over in the corner.

Then, Rush and Laulala teamed up again, this time both carrying hard into the opposition 22, with Bradley Davies on hand to crash over from close range and score an all-important third try.

There was a late consolation try for Thomas Sourice but Toulon could not do enough to stop a 21-28 victory and Cardiff Blues becoming the first Welsh side to lift a European trophy.

The team we had back then was quite something, with a perfect mix of foreign talent in the form of Fa’ao Filise, Paul Tito, Ma’ama Molitika, Casey Laulala and Ben Blair, alongside Welsh talent Gethin Jenkins, Bradley Davies, Martyn Williams, Richie Rees, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny.

‘That day in Marseille’ was a fitting way to start the decade, with the hope that it could be repeated this coming May as the European Finals return to the city once again.

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