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Blues make history in stunning final
Cardiff Blues became the first Welsh team to lift a European title after clinching the Amlin Challenge Cup in a thrilling final.
Jamie Roberts, Bradley Davies and Leigh Halfpenny all crossed in the second half as the Blues pulled off a stunning victory over RC Toulon in Marseille.
Toulon led 13-6 at half-time following a try by man of the match Sonny Bill Williams.
But after Jonny Wilkinson hobbled off early in the second half, the Blues produced a rousing second-half comeback.
It was an historic moment for Cardiff who had lost the inaugural Heineken Cup final in 1996 and missed out on last year’s final in a heart-breaking semi-final penalty shoot-out.
But they overcame a partisan competition record crowd of 48,990 to lift the trophy.
The final almost got off to a disastrous start for the Blues when Wilkinson caught them by surprise by switching the direction of the kick-off. Ceri Sweeney’s tackle was enough to dislodge the ball with Toulon baring down on the try line.
Cardiff re-gathered and twice took their lead through Blair as the likes of Casey Laulala grew into the game.
Wilkinson twice levelled for Toulon with the teams appearing evenly matched in most departments. Toulon struggled to get their trademark driving lineout into gear and were guilty of wasting their dominance of possession with scrappy play.
The half looked destined to be shared 6-6 before a mistake by Cardiff in midfield to create the game’s opening try.
Toulon reacted quickest when Cardiff’s Maama Molitika spilled possession and they finally made their passes stick.
Skipper Joe Van Niekerk spotted the opportunity out wide before Jeremy Sinzelle was chased down by Halfpenny. Martyn Williams halted Fotunuupule Auelua’s charge, but the red jerseys of Toulon surged forward and Williams stepped inside two men to score four minutes before the break.
Wilkinson converted and Toulon led 13-6 at half-time after Halfpenny’s 60-metre penalty effort fell short.
Toulon looked sure to extend that lead as they peppered the Blues’ line as Wilkinson and Juan Fernandez-Lobbe pressed for an opening. But Cardiff’s defence scrambled courageously and restricted Toulon to a penalty that Wilkinson failed to convert.
More worrying for Toulon, and England, was Wilkinson collapsing at he took the kick, to be replaced by Mafi Kefu.
It was a huge loss for Toulon and Cardiff swiftly capitalised with their first try on 50 minutes.
The Blues forwards combined to march up field, Xavier Rush, Molitika and Martyn Williams all went close before Richie Rees sent Roberts crashing between the posts.
Blair’s conversion levelled the scores at 13-13 and added another penalty 10 minutes later, after Tom May converted his first effort for Toulon.
But after restoring the deadlock, the Blues then threw the game open with two tries in the space of four minutes.
Laulala and Roberts smashed holes in the tiring Toulon defence before Rush sent Halfpenny over in the corner.
Blair missed the conversion from out wide, but just moments later, Rush and Laulala combined again, this time for Davies to dive over from close range.
Toulon brought on All Black legend Tana Umaga for his final appearance and his pass saw Thomas Sourice narrow the deficit on 78 minutes.
But the Blues held out to claim an historic victory.