The 2018 rugby union European Challenge Cup final kicks off at 20.00 UK time tonight at the San Mamés Stadium, Bilbao. Cardiff Blues will be taking on Gloucester Rugby in a rerun of their 2017 quarter-final tie. The Blues will be looking to take revenge on Gloucester, who beat them by 46-26 last year. However, will they be defeated by the two-time tournament winners once more? Here’s a recap of how the teams have performed so far in the battle for the famous sterling silver rugby trophy.
Cardiff Blues – How Did They Reach The European Challenge Cup Final?
Cardiff Blues began the tournament in Pool 2, alongside Pau, Toulouse and Edinburgh. They won five of their six matches to top their group with 21 points and qualify for the knockout stages.
Their quarter-final clash against Edinburgh took place at Murrayfield, but they managed to negate their opponents’ home advantage. Although the Scots made it onto the scoreboard first, thanks to a penalty from Van der Walt, the visitors took advantage of their opportunities. The final score was 20-6 in Cardiff’s favour, thanks to tries from Ellis Jenkins and Blaine Scully, and two conversions and two penalties from Jarrod Evans.
The semi-finals saw the Blues play host to Pau, in what turned out to be an evenly-matched game at Cardiff Arms Park. The home team started positively, with a seventh-minute try from Gareth Anscombe, which was converted by Jarrod Evans. Despite the fact that Pau’s Conrad Smith went on to score a try, the Blues held on and had gained a 13-10 lead by half-time. Pau put their opponents under some serious pressure in the second half but still couldn’t gain the upper hand. A third penalty from Evans sealed a 16-10 match win for Cardiff.
Gloucester Rugby – Their Path to the Final Showdown
Gloucester’s first task of the tournament was to defeat their fellow Pool 3 teams – Pau, Agen and Zebre – in order to qualify for the knockout stages. However, things didn’t go quite as smoothly as they’d probably hoped they would. Pau managed to defeat the Cherry and Whites by 27-21 at the Stade de Hameau in the first round and by 34-24 at Kingsholm Stadium, denying them the chance to top the table. Thankfully, Gloucester won all of their other matches and qualified as one of the best-placed runners-up.
The Cherry and Whites drew Pool 5’s victors, Connacht Rugby, in the quarter-finals and travelled to the Sportsground to face the Irish club. Both teams fought furiously and it wasn’t an easy victory for the visitors, but they eventually triumphed by 33-28. Gloucester’s points came courtesy of tries from James Hanson, Tom Marshall, Henry Trinder and John Afoa, two conversions and two penalties from Owen Williams, and a penalty from Billy Twelvetrees.
Winning their semi-final clash against Newcastle Falcons was a more straightforward task. While Scott Lawson and Joel Hodgson rewarded visiting Falcons’ fans with two tries and a conversion respectively, it wasn’t enough to defeat the hosts. Tom Marshall, Motu Matu’u, Billy Burns and Ben Vellacott scored a try apiece for Gloucester, while Billy Twelvetrees added points to their tally with two conversions and two penalties. The home team won by 33-12, securing themselves a place in the final.
Will Gloucester take the trophy home for the third time this year or will the Cardiff Blues be celebrating? Tell us what you think about the cup final on Twitter, on Facebook or below.