Saturday 20 January 2018

Walder miss hands Blues chance at Euro glory

Wasps 15
Cardiff Blues 18

Alex Lowe

Cardiff Blues set up an Amlin Challenge Cup final showdown with Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon in Marseille after battling to a deserved victory over Wasps.

The Blues reached their first European final since the inaugural Heineken Cup in 1996 with tries from Leigh Halfpenny and Gethin Jenkins.

Wasps outhalf Dave Walder kicked 15 points to keep the English side in touch throughout -- but he could not land the vital 77th-minute kick that would have taken the match into extra-time.

The Blues had to play the last 10 minutes with 14 men but held out to become Wales' first finalists in any European competition since Caerphilly in the 2003 Parker Pen Shield.

With just five minutes gone, Cardiff thought they had scored the opening try. Xavier Rush barged characteristically through two tackles but his offload was judged to be marginally forward before Ben Blair dived on the loose ball.

Wasps took the lead with a penalty from Walder after Cardiff were caught holding on -- but the Blues decamped back downfield and resumed their territorial dominance.

Blair missed a second simple shot at goal but the Blues soon charged into the lead with a well-crafted try from Halfpenny. Rush created the platform with another powerful run, Maama Molitika took it on before Ceri Sweeney changed direction and whipped the ball out wide, where the Wales winger beat Joe Simpson to score.

Blair failed to convert -- his third consecutive miss -- and Wasps took advantage by earning two penalties, which Walder converted in quick succession. Blair broke his duck with a penalty shortly before the interval but Walder was on target immediately after the restart as Wasps' forwards asserted themselves.

The Blues showed remarkable handling in the conditions to launch an exhilarating counter-attack into Wasps territory and earn the penalty shot, which Blair converted.

Wasps were reduced to 14 men when Simon Shaw, having been warned twice in the first half, was sin-binned. Halfpenny missed the long-range penalty attempt but the Blues soon took full advantage of having the extra man. Cardiff launched a powerful line-out drive, pushing Wasps' seven-man pack backwards before Jenkins burrowed over the line to earn the Blues a vital lead.

Blair converted but Walder kept Wasps in touch with his fifth penalty. The Blues played the last minutes with 14 men when Andrews was sin-binned as the Wasps pack began to dominate. Another powerful set-piece drive earned Walder a chance to send the match into extra-time -- but his first miss of the evening confirmed the Blues' place in the final.

Scorers -- Wasps: Walder 5 pens. Cardiff Blues: Halfpenny, Jenkins try each, Blair 2 cons, 1 pen

Wasps: Van Gisbergen (Cipriani 71); Sackey, Jacobs, Waldouck, Lemi (Varndell 74); Walder, Simpson; Payne (Taulafo 49), Webber (Lindsay 36 (Webber 40), Vickery, Shaw, Skivington, Worsley, Rees (capt) (Betsen 59), Ward-Smith

Cardiff Blues: Blair; Halfpenny, Laulala, Roberts, Czekaj; Sweeney, Allinson; Jenkins, T Rhys Thomas (Gareth Williams 77), Filise (Andrews 54), Deiniol Jones, Tito (capt) (Davies 54), Molitika (Yapp 74), Martyn Williams, Rush

Sunday Independent

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