Anscombe kicks Cardiff Blues to European glory

Gareth Anscombe inspired Cardiff Blues to their second European Challenge Cup title as his late penalty snatched a 31-30 win over Gloucester in Bilbao.

Gareth Anscombe inspired Cardiff Blues to their second European Challenge Cup title as his late penalty snatched a 31-30 win over Gloucester in Bilbao.

The Wales full-back had missed a touchline conversion that would have levelled a thrilling encounter four minutes from time, but made no mistake with just a minute left on the clock to give his side the lead.

It was a remarkable effort from the Blues, who trailed 20-6 at the break but fought back brilliantly, with Anscombe at the heart of their effort.

He and new Wales call-up Tomos Williams combined to set up a try just a minute into the second half, and that was to prove the foundation for their success.

It was Cardiff Blues who made the better start with Josh Navidi getting over the ball well to earn an early penalty, slotted by Jarrod Evans.

He was replaced shortly afterwards however, with his arm in a sling, as Olly Robinson came on in his place. Gloucester’s response was impressive, capitalizing on some pressure with the opening try as Billy Burns produced a pinpoint cross-kick to Henry Trinder to crash over in the corner. Billy Twelvetrees converted from the touchline.

Evans cut the deficit to a point with his second penalty, although the Blues had come close to a try of their own just before, only for Callum Braley to force Blaine Scully into touch.

When the Welsh side were slow to roll away from a tackle, Twelvetrees added three more points to make it 10-6 before Owen Lane was the second Cardiff player to go off through injury.

Italy flanker Jake Polledri was getting through a mountain of work, racking up nine carries in the first half alone. Gloucester almost had a second try through Lewis Ludlow, but the flanker was called back for a forward pass in the build-up.

Still, they did not have to wait too long, with Twelvetrees putting Trinder away down the left. He in turn found Braley who fed Mark Atkinson to race over.

The conversion from Twelvetrees was an easy one, and there was still time for a further penalty on the stroke of half-time to make it 20-6 to Gloucester at the break.

Cardiff Blues needed the next score and they got it in sensational fashion from their scrum-half Williams, who was the only uncapped player in Wales’ squad for their summer tour of the Americas.

Anscombe started the move with a clever grubber through. He collected then chipped inside and Williams then kicked it on twice himself before collecting off the base of the post to dot down. Evans’ conversion made it 20-13.

The comeback was well and truly on, with Evans slotting three more points when Polledri was penalized at the breakdown.

And they hit the front through Garyn Smith after a lovely grubber through from Evans down the left touchline. The fly-half converted to make it 23-20 to the Welsh side with 25 minutes remaining.

Gloucester had been rocked but they responded impressively, as their pack got the better of the Blues eight to allow James Hanson to score from a rolling maul. Twelvetrees converted for a four-point lead heading into the final 20 minutes.

And after a huge tackle by Ludlow on Anscombe, they got a shove on in the scrum to give Twelvetrees another shot at goal. From 45 metres, to the left, he made no mistake, make it 30-23.

The Blues refused to give up though, and worked their way back into the Gloucester 22, with Ludlow sin-binned for an infringement five metres from his own line.

Again they managed to make space for Scully out wide, and this time he was able to squeeze over, giving Anscombe a touchline conversion to level the scores. He pulled his effort just to the left, leaving the Blues trailing by two points with three minutes remaining.

But just as it seemed that might prove costly, the Blues got back into Gloucester territory, earned a penalty after isolating the ball-carrier in the 22, and from the left, Anscombe made up for his earlier miss to earn the win.