Anglo-Welsh Cup Semi-Finals
Gloucester and Blues book final date
March 28, 2009
Gloucester centre Mike Tindall is injured in a tackle from the Ospreys' Sonny Parker © Getty Images
Gloucester and Cardiff Blues will contest this season's Anglo-Welsh Cup Final after victories over Ospreys and Northampton in their respective semi-final clashes at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
In the day's first semi-final, Guinness Premiership side Gloucester booked a place in this season's finale with a 17-0 victory over Magners League rivals Ospreys.
Twelve points from the boot of fly-half Ryan Lamb, a late breakaway try from winger Iain Balshaw and an impressive defensive display saw the Premiership side end the hopes of their Magners League rivals who were left to rue their failure to convert a series of chances.
The opening quarter fell way short of expectations as both sides struggled to inject any pace into the contest. A single penalty from Lamb was the only score of the first half that also saw serious-looking injuries for Gloucester centre Mike Tindall and Ospreys fullback Gavin Henson both of whom will be hoping to be included in the Lions squad that will be announced next month.
Lamb put his side ahead after just three minutes but they were on the back foot for much of the half. And, while the Ospreys looked more threatening with ball in hand, James Hook hardly helped their cause by missing two penalties that were well within his range.
Tindall's injury 11 minutes before half-time, with his knee appearing to buckle in a tackle, saw him replaced by Matthew Watkins while Henson pulled up in open play with what looked like an ankle injury.
Lamb doubled Gloucester's lead soon after the re-start but the Ospreys continued to dominate territory but crucially failed to convert any of their chances. With the game almost an hour old they had nothing to show for 27 forays into the Gloucester 22, while their rivals made the most of their rare attacks deep into Ospreys territory.
The Ospreys, chasing their third successive final appearance, were left to regret decisions to turn down kicks at the posts when a Lamb drop goal took the English side beyond a converted score from which point the Welsh side were chasing the game.
The Gloucester No.10 edged his side nearer the Twickenham finale with his third drop goal and the result was confirmed when Balshaw pounced on a loose pass from Ospreys scrum-half Mike Phillips before racing the length of the field to touch down.
Gloucester head coach Dean Ryan said, "It was an outstanding defensive display. Our willingness to work in defence really came through. People put themselves on the line. We had to front up physically, and if that performance answers some of the criticisms of us, then great."
In the second match of the semi-final double-header, the Blues secured an 11-5 victory over Northampton.
A try from scrum-half Jason Spice and a penalty from Ben Blair put the Magners League side in charge of the clash but failed to tell the story of a half they dominated in terms of possession, territory and scoring chances. The Saints struck back straight after the re-start with a try from Joe Ansbro but despite raising their game hey were unable to close the gap and a late penalty from Blair sealed the win.
It was a deserved victory for the Blues, who bossed the first half with Ma'ama Molitika's powerful running and Nicky Robinson's inch-perfect tactical kicking keeping Northampton pinned deep in their own territory. Cardiff enjoyed nearly 70% of possession and territory and Northampton did not win any ball in Cardiff's 22 for the whole first half.
Cardiff edged into an early lead when Dylan Hartley was penalised straight from the kick-off and Ben Blair slotted the simple kick. Blair missed a second penalty shot at goal and Stephen Myler also wasted an early chance to put Northampton on the scoreboard after Molitika had been isolated.
Eventually, Cardiff's pressure paid off. Hartley missed his man in the lineout and the Blues ran hard and straight through Molitika and the increasingly influential Wales centre Jamie Roberts. Leigh Halfpenny had a dart for the line but Northampton left fringes unguarded and Spice darted over from the base of a ruck.
Northampton made a blistering start to the second period. Neil Best's bulldozing run through the middle set them on their way before the ball was shifted wide for Ansboro, who held off Halfpenny's tackle to dive for the line and score in the corner.
Northampton defended a messy lineout but were then penalised at a scrum, offering Blair a chance to extend Cardiff's lead. He missed a third straight kick but Barry Everitt, on for Myler on the hour, then continued the poor goal-kicking spectacle by missing a chance to draw Northampton level.
Cardiff continued to test Northampton's defence with a powerful run from Roberts and earned a penalty which Blair slotted to push them six points clear and seal a date at Twickenham.
Director of rugby Dai Young hailed the Blues' victory that sees them qualify for their first-ever final. "You don't have a right to be in finals, you have to earn it," he said. "It has not happened as quickly as we would have liked. But we have put real solid foundations in with the academy. The regional concept is better, and the support we are getting is far better.
"Then it is a snowball effect, and we have gone from strength to strength. We are a very difficult team to beat but we are not the finished article."