Blues slip through but are left homesick

Cardiff Blues 36 Racing Metro 30

Cardiff City Stadium

The Welsh performance in this season's Heineken Cup has not been quite as bad as the English display, but this is a bit like saying Michael Howard was not as useless a Tory leader as William Hague. All things considered, the regional sides to the west of the Severn could, and should, have delivered more during the pool stage, and if Cardiff Blues made it into the knock-out phase by the skin of their dentures yesterday – at this level, players tend not to keep their own teeth for long – they messed up in victory by letting a home quarter-final slip away at the death.

Twice in the closing seconds, they managed to make a nonsense of attacking line-outs within a few feet of their opponents' line. Had they maximised either opportunity, they would have claimed the try-scoring bonus point they craved – a result that would have paired them with Toulouse in their own backyard, no one's idea of a cakewalk but winnable on a good day, rather than Leinster "over there", which is about as winnable as the national lottery.

Strangely, the Blues seemed unaware of the necessity of securing a fourth try until their coaches started hollering from the touchline, having been made aware of Edinburgh's scoring exploits at Murrayfield. With the Tongan back-rower Maama Molitika adding some much-needed oomph off the bench, they duly doubled their dynamism rate and put the Parisians under siege. Sadly for the Welshmen, a lack of precision at key moments betrayed them.

By way of making matters worse, the Blues lost Gethin Jenkins, their kingpin prop forward, to a knee ligament injury midway through the second quarter. The Lions Test player left the field largely under his own steam, but he was hobbling badly and looked as happy with life as Victor Meldrew on a wet Monday morning, with a gas bill on the doormat. If, as seems certain, Jenkins struggles to recover in time for the start of the Six Nations Championship, now less than a fortnight away, the Wales hierarchy will no doubt share his dark view of the world.

Any schadenfreude the Welsh might have felt at England's increasing inability to fire anything more than volleys of blanks in European competition – even the Premiership champions Saracens, needing precious little from their trip to Treviso, spent much of yesterday in serious danger of coming up short before making their way laboriously into the quarter-final draw – had evaporated during the hour and a half before kick-off. In that time, the Swansea-based Ospreys were run ragged by Biarritz. The rugby population at large badly needed the Blues to show something of the best of themselves, as a means of revving up some interest in the club game in these parts. They started brightly, the scrum-half Lloyd Williams claiming a chargedown try on five minutes and embarrassing the World Cup-winning Springbok centre Frans Steyn in the process. But Racing Metro were far from blase, despite losing four of their previous five pool contests; indeed, they felt they had something to prove, having scored heavily in most of their matches, only to find themselves edged out by the late scores of the most infuriating variety. They worked their way back on terms early in the second quarter when Josh Matavesi scored down the left after an inventive short-side move involving Steyn, Sireli Bobo and the scrum-half Sebastien Descons, and with Fabrice Estebanez asking questions in midfield, the Blues found themselves in more strife than they might.

Happily for them, Leigh Halfpenny was in good shape on the markmanship front while the officials were in generous mood. When Halfpenny made a half-break nine minutes before the interval, the new Six Nations wing Alex Cuthbert appeared to knock on as he attempted a one-handed gather of the pass. The referee did not see it that way, however, and permitted Cuthbert to hare off into the distance and complete the touchdown in the right corner.

But again, the Parisians retaliated, Estebanez running through Parks and allowing the flanker Antoine Battut to set a ruck near the posts, from which Bobo finished. A quick exchange of penalties between Halfpenny and Steyn, rival siege-gun merchants who both kick the ball miles, left the argument finely balanced and when the half-time whistle went, the visitors held a one-point lead at 24-23.

Even when Cuthbert, a natural finisher, claimed his second try straight from the restart, taking advantage of the Parisians' failure to deal with a high kick from Dan Park to squeeze in at the corner in Bobo's despairing tackle, there was a whiff of Sod's Law in the air. Whatever Halfpenny delivered on the penalty front was matched by Descons, from short range, and Steyn, from the back end of beyond and the visitors might have finished the stronger but for Matavesi's bone-headed waste of a prime attacking position – his wholly unnecessary drop-goal attempt was lamentable – and Steyn's poorly-timed dummy run in midfield, which left two Blues defenders flat on their backs and Small reaching for his whistle.

So it was that the Welshmen prevailed. But come early April, when they take on the holders at one or other of Dublin's prime union venues, they will wish, with every fibre of their being, that they had nailed one of those late line-outs and earned themselves the right to stay in their own capital city.

Scorers: Cardiff Blues: Tries Cuthbert 2, Williams; Conversions Halfpenny 3; Penalties Halfpenny 5. Racing Métro : Tries Matavesi, Bobo; Conversion Descons; Penalties Wisniewski 2, Descons 2, Steyn 2.

Cardiff Blues: L Halfpenny; A Cuthbert, C Laulala, G Evans,

C Czekaj (T James 67); D Parks, L Williams (R Rees 53); G Jenkins (J Yapp 34), R Tyrell, S Andrews (S Hobbs h-t), B Davies, P Tito (capt, M Molitika 70), M Paterson, S Warburton, X Rush.

Racing Métro: J Matavesi; H Chavancy, F Steyn, F Estebanez,

S Bobo; J Wisniewski (J Imhoff 24), S Descons; M Tu'ugahala

(E Arous 45), B Noirot (G Arganese 54), B Sa (J Orlandi 54),

K Ghezal, F Van der Merwe (J Naliko 49), J Leo'o (R Vaquin 70),

A Battut, S Chabal (J Cronje 51).

Referee: A Small (England).

Knockout draw

Quarter-finals: Munster v Ulster

Leinster v Cardiff Blues

Edinburgh v Toulouse

Saracens v Clermont Auvergne

(ties to be played 6/7/8 April)


Semi-finals: Saracens or Clermont v Leinster or Cardiff Blues

Munster or Ulster v Edinburgh or Toulouse

(ties to be played 27/28/29 April)


Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before