Cardiff Blues were crowned European Rugby Challenge Cup winners in Bilbao on Friday after they beat Gloucester 31-30 in a thrilling final.
Down 20-6 at the break, the Blues clawed their way back into the contest and a late Gareth Anscombe penalty goal saw them become champions.
The Blues’ crossings came via Tomos Williams, Garyn Smith and Blaine Scully while Jarrod Evans knocked over 13 points before Anscombe struck.
In reply Gloucester’s tries were scored by Henry Trinder, Mark Atkinson and James Hanson, with Billy Twelvetrees adding 15 points off the tee.
It truly was a game of two halves though at San Mamés Stadium, with Gloucester dominating the first before the Blues fought back and won the match in the 78th minute. Scully’s 77th minute try could not be converted by Anscombe wide out but he made no mistake seconds later.
Gloucester were deservedly 20-6 in front at the interval thanks to two tries and the boot of Twelvetrees, with Cardiff Blues in real trouble.
The Welsh also lost Josh Navidi and Owen Lane to injury in the half, which compounded their woes and in truth they struggled to keep pace.
They did take an early lead on four minutes when Evans slotted from 35 metres out, but then Billy Burns, with a penalty advantage, looked cross-field and found Trinder for the crossing. Twelvetrees then landed the touchline conversion to give the Cherry and Whites a 7-3 lead.
Cardiff came close to responding but for a great tackle from Callum Braley forcing wing Scully into touch. They did though make it 7-6.
Gloucester then turned the screw and after a Twelvetrees penalty on 27 minutes, they were denied a try for a forward pass. It seemed harsh but it mattered not as two minutes before the break a lovely team try involving Twelvetrees, Trinder and Braley set up Atkinson for 17-6.
The Cherry and Whites were not done too as a further Twelvetrees penalty after Ellis Jenkins was penalised at a ruck extended the cushion.
A change of ends changed the Blues’ fortunes though as, with barely a minute played Anscombe’s smart kick ahead was brilliantly collected by scrum-half Williams who went in under the posts. Evans added the simple conversion and suddenly the Welsh region were only seven down.
That became a 20-16 scoreline on 51 minutes as Jake Polledri was penalised for hands in a ruck and Evans did the rest from 30 metres out.
Cardiff Blues’ tails were up and Anscombe’s smart kick through on 55 minutes led to replacement wing Smith going over. They now led 23-20.
However, the lead didn’t last long as Gloucester’s line-out drive then came to the fore, with hooker Hanson going over for a 27-23 buffer before Twelvetrees added to his conversion with a penalty goal on 64 minutes, making it 30-23 and leaving the Blues a converted try adrift.
The Welsh pushed and pushed in the closing stages and with Gloucester flanker Lewis Ludlow in the sin-bin, Scully snuck over on the right wing before Anscombe brushed off his missed conversion to land the crucial penalty that saw Cardiff Blues complete a remarkable comeback.
For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: T Williams, Smith, Scully
Cons: Evans 2
Pens: Evans 3, Anscombe
Tries: Trinder, Atkinson, Hanson
Cons: Twelvetrees 3
Pens: Twelvetrees 3
Yellow Card: Ludlow