Anscombe boots Cardiff Blues to last-gasp victory
If Gloucester could play at their best for an entire game, they would collect trophies by the shed load. There were times they looked set to win the European Challenge Cup final by a significant margin, only for a breathless Cardiff Blues comeback to ruin the Cherry and Whites’ bid to secure victory.
Only Gloucester could blow a half-time lead of 20-6. First-half tries from Henry Trinder and Mark Atkinson, plus a total of 15 points from Billy Twelvetrees, had threatened to win them the game at a canter only for their Welsh opponents to come storming back and nick the trophy in stunning fashion with a 79th-minute angled penalty from a nerveless Gareth Anscombe.
With Cardiff reeling from the early loss of Josh Navidi with his right arm in a sling, a pinpoint cross-kick from Billy Burns to the left corner was splendidly gathered by a flying Trinder and Twelvetrees’s touchline conversion was a similar gem. Had Blaine Scully not failed to ground the ball under pressure from Callum Braley the opening stages would have been still more spectacular.
Cardiff managed two first-quarter penalties from Jarrod Evans but were kept penned in their own half. Twelvetrees extended his side’s lead and Gloucester forwards appeared livelier.
Cardiff’s task became tougher when Gloucester strung together a try good enough to grace any final. Clever play by the excellent Twelvetrees put Trinder away and the supporting Braley sent Atkinson under the sticks. Twelvetrees’s conversion and a further penalty sent his side in at half-time with a 20-6 lead and the trophy seemingly in the bag.
It was not that simple. Tomos Williams grabbed an opportunist try back and Evans’s clever grubber kick set up a 54th-minute try for replacement Garyn Smith. With Evans adding the conversion to another penalty, the Blues were ahead 23-21 only for a well-organised Gloucester-lineout drive to yield a relieving try for their Australian hooker James Hanson. Twelvetrees’s conversion and third penalty restored a measure of calm but the Welsh had the last laugh.