Before the next season starts, it’s always worth reviewing the end of the previous season and, for Cardiff Blues, it ended in an extraordinary fashion. Now, winning cups is nothing new to a Cardiff Rugby fan of a certain age but there was something different about beating Gloucester in Spain. Firstly, Gloucester were favourites with the bookies. Secondly, the victory showed much of the character, determination and tactical emphasis that will underline the three years that Danny Wilson gave as Head Coach. In many ways, that game was a microcosm of Cardiff’s season – start poorly with injuries to key players and then finish strongly with the team ethic shining through. We’ve all heard of the jibes of the jealous of Cardiff being “Chequebook Charlies”, of being a team with little spirit or togetherness, but none of those barbs are applicable to the squad that won in Spain.
Despite early losses to Edinburgh and Leinster there were signs of what was to come -Shingler’s late penalty against Glasgow was missed, but Evans’ last minute conversation against Connacht showed the character that was there. The confidence of smashing a woeful notNewport team allowed more gutsy wins against Lyon and Toulouse. Now we were seeing some real winning patterns emerging, to go alongside the character.
Cardiff were becoming hard to beat and the only thumping they received was thanks to Nigel Owens’ decision to send Filise off for being unable to reverse the basic laws of physics.
Four straight league wins led up to the Quarter Final win over Edinburgh, another narrow loss but then a thumping win characterised the mini tour of South Africa and then the monsters of Pau were beaten in a tense semi final at home. Pau really wanted to make the final in Bilbao because of the obvious Basque reasons, so their enormous and expensive team were no half arsed French outfit.
And so we all made it to Bilbao – by plane, boat, car and I’m sure some people swam there from Southerndown. This was a little different from the final in 2010 because Bilbao was full of supporters of other teams from all over Europe whereas Marseilles had 46,000 Toulon supporters and 3,000 Cardiff fans.
Despite the bookies backing Gloucester (even if only narrowly) we still felt confident of victory as we took our seats. This was an unusual feeling because of results of the recent seasons, but that “we’ll be alright, it’s a Cup Final” Cardiff feeling of old was rumbling away in the background.
But, at 6-20 down at half time it looked like even this was a job too far for this committed bunch of characters. Navidi had been broken, Owen Lane had been broken and our hopes of victory had been broken. But then Anscombe and Evans worked together for 40 minutes of breathtaking magic and the cup was ours. To this day, I’m still not sure how. But it just is. It just was. And the Cup was ours.
And so there it is (above) in all its glory in Cardiff. And all from that one night in Bilbao where three years’ of Danny Wilson’s hard work (plus his crew, let’s not forget) all came to fruition.
Thanks, Danny. Thanks, Uncle Peter.