Memorable Moments of the Decade: The Bilbao Boys

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And so a look back on the most memorable moments of the decade finishes with arguable the most memorable of all in the last 10 years, the second European Challenge Cup win in Bilbao.

There will always be a debate about whether this or the first win in Marseille was better, but I think the circumstances around this one just edge it forward, as rewind to the start of the 2017/18 campaign and Cardiff Blues were about as far away from silverware as it was possible to imagine.

Just one win in the first five games of the season had left us being written off as ‘worse than Zebre’ by WalesOnline, and when Danny Wilson announced his intention to leave at the end of the campaign it seemed that the lowest point was still to come.

However, whereas some clubs fall apart on the back of hearing the coach is set to leave, Cardiff Blues never do things as expected and seemed to pull even closer on the back of Wilson announcing his departure.

Five wins in the next six games got the season back on track but just when it seemed that things were looking good again, we went on a trip to somewhere called Sale. I for some reason can’t recall anything about the trip or the game, my mind has blanked it out, but it seems we came back with zero points. Both on-the-field and in the competition.

For the second time though, Cardiff Blues launched a recovery and between mid-December and the start of April we lost just two games, with one of the wins coming against Edinburgh in the Challenge Cup quarter-final.

Next up was Pau at the Arms Park and in front of a sell out crowd on a glorious day in the Welsh capital, a stunning set piece performance and a Jarrod Evans kicking masterclass sent us to an unexpected second European Final.

Jarrod Evans Pau

A mad dash to Bilbao ensued via planes, trains and automobiles, with the small Spanish city not equipped to deal with two big rugby finals, but the San Mames Stadium was a fittingly grand stage to host what became a brilliant Final between Cardiff Blues and Gloucester.

The game could hardly have started in worse fashion for the Welsh side as Glaws scored tries through Henry Trinder and Mark Atkinson, while we had a score for Blaine Scully ruled out by the TMO as Josh Navidi and Owen Lane were forced off through injury.

20-6 down at half-time and we needed another comeback, but fortunately that Cardiff Blues team weren’t ones to lie down and from the moment the second half kicked off it seemed we were hell-bent on winning.

Gareth Anscombe produced a moment of magic to collect his own chip kick and kick ahead again with Tomos Williams chasing and producing a simply stunning pick-up to score under the posts.

Jarrod Evans converted, nailed a penalty and then turned try provider for a second Cardiff Blues score as he nudged through perfectly for Garyn Smith to collect and touch down. Evans converted again to give us a 20-23 lead.

Gloucester kept the game alive through the boot of Billy Twelvetrees and a driving maul try, but the crucial interventions came in the final five minutes.

First, Blaine Scully finished brilliantly out wide to cut the deficit, but when Anscombe missed the conversion it needed Garyn Smith to kick ahead from the kick-off and win a penalty over the ball for the fly-half to have another go at the posts.

This time he made no mistake and Cardiff Blues became European Challenge Cup Champions for the second time in the history, still the only Welsh team to win a European trophy and having done so twice.

A stunning second half of the season capped off in brilliant fashion as Danny Wilson was given a fitting send off and supporters enjoyed another brilliant European Finals weekend, this time in Northern Spain.

One comment

  1. Having been lucky enough to attend both Marseilles and Bilbao, I agree Bilbao just edges it. As an experience, occasion and being with my daughters in Marseilles, the whole day was magnificent. We had a stellar team there even though the odds were stacked against us. The team in Bilbao, not blessed with stars played as a team, not giving in under the odds and made me very proud of them. πŸ‘ŒπŸ‘ŒπŸ‘Œ

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