Ellis Jenkins Leads Cardiff Blues To European Challenge Cup Glory In Bilbao
The Cardiff Blues defeated Gloucester to become European Challenge Cup champions in Bilbao.
A dramatic, last-gasp penalty sealed a triumphant Blues fightback led by captain Ellis Jenkins as they beat Gloucester to win 31-30 and secure their first silverware in eight years. With Blues captain Gethin Jenkins unable to recover from a calf injury, the armband was passed to flanker Ellis Jenkins as the team sought a second Challenge Cup title and send off head coach Danny Wilson in style.
A quality match saw the lead change hands five times before Gareth Anscombe scored a nerveless penalty to snatch the victory in the last minute. The Blues had lost the influential Josh Navidi within six minutes of the contest with wing Owen Lane departing shortly afterwards, both with arm injuries. Gloucester, in their third final in four years, took advantage of the disruption and scored both tries and penalties, one a superb team effort from deep in their own half, to lead 20-6 at half-time.
A typical superb performance from captain Jenkins at the breakdown led a stirring second-half recovery for the Blues, with Tomos Williams crossing the touchline within a minute after the break to narrow the gap to just seven points. Both Jarrod Evans and Gloucester’s Billy Twelvetrees kept the scoreboard ticking over but the Blues pounced again to stun Gloucester with a second try through Garyn Smith. Gloucester retaliated with a try from a driving lineout and a Twelvetrees conversion regained the lead for the English side.
The Blues would not be defeated and piled the pressure on Gloucester in the final quarter which finally converted into a score after Lewis Ludlow was sent off and Blaine Scully capitalised to squeeze into the corner. Anscombe just missed the conversion from the touchline, much to the agony of the Blues fans, but the team were relentless and managed to win a penalty in the opposition 22 after a brilliant cross-field kick from Anscombe. Despite the pressure on his shoulders, Anscombe had nerves of steel and calmly slotted home the penalty to seal the Challenge Cup trophy for the Cardiff Blues with just 65 seconds remaining on the clock.
“The team character we have in this squad has played a huge part,” said Ellis Jenkins.
“We managed to get some momentum going over the past few months and we’re enjoying our rugby and the way we play at the moment.
“We enjoy each other’s company both on the field and after the final whistle has been blown and it’s nice to be able to share a beer with my mates in the changing room after a win like that.
“It took us 79 minutes but we got there in the end! It was about digging in towards the end of the game. We’ve trained hard all season to give us opportunities like this and we didn’t want to leave anything on the pitch.”