When it comes to the Cardiff Blues era of the club’s history the standout memories for players, coaches and supporters will no doubt be some superb European days.
Of course there are two days that are of particular importance in that sense, but more on them later as over the last 18 years we’ve had a number of memorable days across the Heineken Cup and Challenge Cup in their various guises.
There was the game against Calvisano in 2005 where Jonah Lomu took to the Arms Park for the first time, wins at home to Stade Francais and away at Bristol in 07/08, the double header against Biarritz in 2008, the away win over Racing in 2011, scoring 100 points against Rovigo in 2015, and the double-double against French opposition in 2017/18.
We’ve had some brilliant battles with specific teams over the years too. Toulon for example, were our pool stage opponents in 2012/13 and 2013/14, spawning great trips to Toulon and Nice, as well as that superb home win in October 2013 with Gareth Davies wriggling over the line late on.
Gloucester were another with battles in the 2004/05 and 2008/09 Heineken Cup pool stages, where we won at Kingsholm despite Tom James being sent off after Olivier Azam’s amateur dramatics, and played brilliantly at the Principality Stadium, which itself has been the scene of some big Cardiff Blues European days.
The 9-6 win over Toulouse was a real battle but a better game than the scoreline suggests, before THAT game against Leicester Tigers which, although ending in such a bitterly disappointing way, spawned a moment that will live long in the memory when TJ scored in the corner and Ben Blair nailed the subsequent conversion.
Then we reach 2010 and 2018, and Finals which were only possible after excellent knockout round performances. The sweeping aside of Newcastle and then the Xavier Rush show in dreadful weather at Wasps, as well as Ellis Jenkins’ handling skills in Edinburgh before the ultimate physical showing against Pau on that sunny day at CAP.
The Finals though are the two greatest days of the Cardiff Blues era without question. A Toulon side packed with stars; van Niekerk, Fernandez Lobbe, Wilkinson, Sonny Bill Williams, Umaga, playing in front of what was essentially a home crowd in Marseille but as much as the supporters out-sung their opposition, the players outplayed theirs.
Then on to Bilbao and a 20-6 half-time deficit going in at half-time against Gloucester before brilliant finishes from Tomos Williams and Blaine Scully, the turnover of his life from Garyn Smith and the boot of Gareth Anscombe made us two-time Challenge Cup champions and still the only Welsh side to lift a European trophy.
It’s been a great 18 years of European journeys with Cardiff Blues, building on being the finalists in the first ever Heineken Cup, and as we return to being properly Cardiff and playing in the main competition once again, let’s hope those good times continue.