Cardiff Blues 26-26 Leicester Tigers, (aet, 7-6 on pens)
Tigers clinch dramatic shoot-out victory
May 3, 2009
Leicester's Jordan Crane is congratulated on his match-winning penalty kick by team mate Scott Hamilton
© Getty Images
Leicester Tigers will play Leinster in this season's Heineken Cup Final after beating Cardiff Blues 7-6 in an historic sudden death penalty shoot-out at the Millennium Stadium.
No.8 Jordan Crane kicked the all-important place kick for the double-chasing Tigers after the Blues had fought back bravely to level the match at 26-26 and take the contest into extra time. However, the dramatic shoot-out, the first of its kind in the tournament's 14-year history, was an ill-fitting climax to a match that enthralled from start to finish.
Leicester appeared to be in control of the clash early in the second half thanks to tries from winger Scott Hamilton and fullback Geordan Murphy but two tries in the last six minutes from centre Jamie Roberts and winger Tom James and two superb conversions from fullback Ben Blair gave the Blues a lifeline.
With neither side able to break the deadlock in extra time the match would be decided by the kicking prowess of the respective teams. Leicester's Johne Murphy missed his kick from the 22 metre line to give James the chance to win it for the Blues but he also failed to hit the target and as a result the duel went into sudden-death.
The final twist in the tale saw the Blues' Martyn Williams pull his effort wide of the posts before Crane stepped up to slot the match-winning kick and set the seal on the most dramatic match in Heineken Cup history.
It was a cruel way to end a pulsating contest, especially when it seemed as though a remarkable Blues fightback would reap a spectacular reward. The result means Leicester progress to a record-equalling fifth Heineken Cup Final on May 23 where they will play Leinster who booked their place with an impressive victory over Munster on Saturday.
The opening exchanges promised much with both sides showing a willingness to run the ball. The Blues had the better opportunities, with James and Martyn Williams catching the eye but it was the Tigers who were given the first scoring opportunity. Halfpenny was penalised for not releasing after a good chip and chase from Dupuy but the Tigers' No.9 pushed the penalty attempt wide of the posts.
The Blues suffered a significant blow after just ten minutes with the loss of skipper Paul Tito to a rib injury but they took the loss in their stride. A smart lineout move allowed Halfpenny to cut the Leicester defence wide open but a great tackle from man of the match Tom Croft brought him down before the line. But the athletic Tigers lock was penalised at the following ruck allowing Blair to open the scores with his first penalty.
The Blues immediately offered their opponents a chance to respond but Dupuy once again failed to find the target with his kick. His off-day with the boot continued with his third miss of the game midway through the half but the Tigers' disappointment was short-lived.
Tigers fly-half Toby Flood took on Roberts and Nicky Robinson in the Blues' midfield before delivering a delightful pass out the side to Hamilton who met the ball at pace before racing away to score under the posts. The easy conversion also allowed Dupuy to settle his nerves and cement his side's lead.
A high tackle from Tongan prop Taufa'ao Filise on Croft allowed Leicester the chance to extend their lead and Dupuy made no mistake. But back came the Blues with Leigh Halfpenny landing his first long-range effort to reduce the arrears. The Blues' defence withstood a 20+ phase of pressure deep inside their own 22 before a quick-thinking Marytn Williams had Leicester scrambling back in defence. Johne Murphy then ran into trouble and from the resulting penalty Blair brought the Blues to within a point.
Leicester were perhaps unlucky to be penalised for offside at the re-start and some back chat from Flood led to another penalty. The long distance proved no trouble once again for Halfpenny. The Blues' expansive approach cost them the lead soon after when Robinson was caught in possession after a quick lineout and Dupuy slotted the easy three to give his side a narrow advantage at the break.
The Tigers stretched their lead after the break with Johne Murphy capitalising on a lapse in the Blues' defence to take his side deep into their opponents' half. A moment of magic from Dupuy created the space for Flood to exploit a gap before offloading to Geordan Murphy who dived in to score.
The Blues struggled for composure and two successive penalties allowed Dupuy to take the Tigers out to what appeared to be a match-winning 26-12 lead with a quarter of the match remaining. But the Blues rallied and went in search of an unlikely comeback. An Achilles injury to Flood forced the Tigers into a crucial change on the hour mark and they would have further cause for concern soon after.
The Blues continued to press in search of tries but were thwarted time and time again by some excellent defence from Leicester. However the Tigers' wilingness to concede penalties as opposed to tries saw them suffer at the hands of referee Alain Rolland. With the Blues closing in on the Tigers' line Craig Newby blatantly infringed at the ruck and as a result was rightly sent to the sin-bin.
The Blues were unable to capitalise but the Welsh were handed an even greater numerical advantage when Geordan Murphy was given a yellow card for a deliberate knock on as the Blues closed in on the try line.
They still struggled to find an opening and had to wait until the last six minutes to be rewarded from where they launched a stunning comeback. A great pass from Nicky Robinson found Roberts and the centre rode the tackle of replacement Matt Smith to dot down in the corner for their first try.
Blair offered more reason for hope with an excellent kick from the touchline to bring his side within a converted score. Then just a minute later Roberts smashed through a couple of tackles on his own 22 before feeding James who backed himself - racing down the touchline to score in the same corner. Blair delivered with an even better conversion to level the scores.
After 80 minutes of bruising cup rugby it was not surprising to see fatigue take its toll in extra time and drop goal attempts from Johne Murphy and replacement Aaron Mauger were the nearest either side came to breaking the deadlock and as a result the competition moved into unchartered territory.
Blair, Robinson and Halfpenny all slotted their kicks and they were matched by Dupuy, Sam Vesty and Geordan Murphy. Replacement Ceri Sweeney then turned the screw before Johne Murphy pulled his wide of the mark. James was then off-target with a kick that would have capped a remarkable turnaround and instead Hamilton took the shoot-out into sudden death.
Tom Shanklin and Mauger both hit the target before scrum-half Richie Rees' effort struggled over. Newby was more impressive with his effort but the same could not be said for the unlucky Williams who pulled his kick to the left of the posts.
The stage was then set for Crane to clinch the glory which he duly did with a sweetly struck kick.
Cardiff Blues: Blair, Halfpenny, Shanklin, J. Roberts, James, N. Robinson, Rees, Jenkins, G. Williams, Filise, Davies, Tito, Molitika, M. Williams, Rush.
Replacements: Sweeney for J. Roberts (99), Yapp for Filise (80), D. Jones for Tito (9), A. Powell for Molitika (60). Not Used: T. Thomas, Allinson, G. Thomas.
Leicester: G. Murphy, Hamilton, Hipkiss, Vesty, J. Murphy, Flood, Dupuy, Ayerza, Chuter, Castrogiovanni, Croft, Kay, Newby, Woods, Crane.
Replacements: Smith for J. Murphy (63), Mauger for Flood (60), Ellis for Dupuy (73), Kayser for Chuter (59), Wentzel for Castrogiovanni (50), Moody for Woods (74). Not Used: White.
Sin Bin: Newby (61), G. Murphy (67).
Man of the Match: Tom Croft (Leicester)
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)