It might be the Crackerjack Pencil competition, but Cardiff Blues are back in the semi-final frame on the European front again. Their Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-final on Tyneside was hardly what it said on the tin – a challenge – as Dai Young's men swatted aside a flyweight Newcastle Falcons team to keep some Welsh interest in the hunt for continental silverware.
The Blues ran in seven tries, one of them courtesy of Ben Blair (right), who landed nine out of nine with the boot – seven conversions, two penalties – in the kind of place-kicking masterclass Jonny Whatshisname used to produce at Kingston Park. The former All Black full-back is clearly smarter than the average Blair.
There was a hammer blow for Newcastle before kick-off with the withdrawal of Carl Hayman, their Kiwi tighthead having fallen victim to a back problem. There were also a couple of try-scoring blows in the first 13 minutes as the Blues, resplendent in pink shirts, got into a high-tempo pick-and-go stride. First the former All Black centre Casey Laulala rode a tackle from Gcobani Bobo to score to the right of the posts. Then Martyn Williams flopped over a close range ruck on the left.
Blair having added the extras from both tries and Jimmy Gopperth having landed a penalty for Newcastle, that left Cardiff 14-3 to the good and firmly in the box seat. But then wing Charlie Amesbury stole through a ruck to plunder a five-pointer for the Falcons, Gopperth converted, nailed another penalty and suddenly the lead was down to a solitary point.
A Blair penalty did give the Blues a 17-13 lead at the interval but that was scant reward for their first-half domination. There was to be no repeat after the interval. Once Taufa'au Felise burrowed over in the 43rd minute, Newcastle folded like a pack of cards. Blair, Jamie Roberts, Felise again and Roberts all got in on the try-scoring act. Scrum-half Micky Young crossed at the other end but that was scant consolation for the crestfallen Falcons.
Scorers: Newcastle: Tries Amesbury, Young; Conversions Gopperth 2; Penalties Gopperth 2; Cardiff Blues: Tries Laulala, M Williams, Felise 2, Blair, Roberts, Sweeney; Conversions Blair 7; Penalties Blair 2.
Newcastle: A Tait (T Catterick, 47); D Williams, G Bobo, T Tu'ipulotu, C Amesbury (C Micklewood, 65); J Gopperth (capt, M Young (C Pilgrim, 68); J Golding, R Vickers (A Walker, 69), M Ward (K Brookes, 58), J Hudson (M Sorenson, 47), F Levi, B Wilson, E Williamson (W Welch, 58), J Afu.
Cardiff Blues: B Blair; L Halfpenny, C Laulala (D Flanagan, 70), J Roberts (D Hewitt, 61), C Czekaj; C Sweeney, R Rees (D Allinson, 58); G Jenkins (capt, Yapp, 58), T Rhys Thomas (G Williams, 47), F Filise (S Andrews, 61), B Davies (P Tito, 54), D Jones, M Molitika, M Williams (S, Warburton, 18-24), Rush (S Warburton, 69).
Referee: J Garces (France).