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Page last updated at 20:21 GMT, Saturday, 22 May 2010 21:21 UK

Blues aim to lift Cardiff blues

A Cardiff City fan hides his face in despair after the Bluebirds' 3-2 defeat by Blackpool in the Championship play-off final
Will Blues fans be happier than their Bluebird counterparts at the final whistle?

By Bruce Pope
BBC Sport in Marseille

European rugby finals of any description are a rare treat for Welsh teams.

Sunday's Amlin Challenge Cup climax between Cardiff Blues and Toulon will be just the fourth involving a Welsh side in 15 seasons.

So, as might be expected, the prospect of becoming the first Welsh team to actually win an elusive European title saw a few nerves begin to jangle in Marseille on the eve of the match.

Fortunately for the travelling fans on Saturday there was plenty to keep the mind off the impending clash at the Stade Velodrome.

While Marseille, France's age-old port, is famous for its bouillabaisse and Savon de Marseille - soup and soap in other words - many minds were still focused on events back home despite the distractions on the south coast of France.

With the footballing side of Cardiff falling agonisingly short on Saturday it is now up to the rugby half to claim the honour and the glory this weekend

It was strange enough to have left Cardiff basking in temperatures a good few degrees higher than our destination on the Mediterranean coast.

But football - of all things - kept interrupting thoughts on a day when the anticipation of a major rugby game should have been in full flow.

The footballing half of Wales' capital city had decamped to Wembley for the day for the Championship play-off final.

Beat Blackpool and Cardiff City FC, the Blues' ground-sharing cousins at the new City Stadium, would be in the Premier League next season playing some of the biggest teams in club football.

A bar near the Stade Velodrome had been earmarked by club officials for Blues fans to watch the football and there were plenty who made the pilgrimage to keep an eye on Wembley events.

Elsewhere the 'beep' of received text messages filled the air as travellers were kept informed by those at home of Cardiff's 3-2 defeat.

The Holy Hooker

Other Blues fans had foregone television - at least until the Heineken Cup final between Toulouse and Biarittz kicked off later on Saturday evening - and headed for the seafront of Marseille to wallow in the sun, soak up the atmosphere and mingle with the locals.

Even Wales coach Warren Gatland was spotted amongst the throng, here to cast his eye over the Blues players ahead of Tests against South Africa and New Zealand next month.

There was dismay among the Blues followers at news of Cardiff City's footballing loss, tempered with relief from at least one fan who had promised to jump in the Marseille dock to celebrate any Bluebirds triumph.

Opposing fans were also out in numbers and Phillipe Corlin is one of those Marseille residents who has adopted Toulon - half-an-hour east along the coast.

Citing his disenchantment at the off-field violence involved around Olympique Marseille - the city's football team - Phillipe has embraced rugby as his sport of choice.

Jonny Wilkinson directs operations for Toulon
England great Wilkinson lies in wait for Toulon in Marseille

He and many other Toulon followers also appear to have canonised Jonny Wilkinson, the England fly-half who joined Toulon this season from Newcastle and seems to have quickly earned a place in their hearts.

"He is a saint, Saint Jonny!" insists Phillipe. "He wins matches by himself, his kicking is magnificent, a great player."

Last week's thrilling overtime loss to Clermont Auvergne in the French Top 14 semi-finals was, I was assured, mainly down to bad calls by the match officials and the Blues would have to produce something special to win on Sunday.

Maybe so, as Toulon had won 11 games straight before the Clermont loss in St Etienne.

But the Blues have a great record away from home this season, winning at English sides Newcastle in the quarter-finals and Wasps in the semis.

Whether they can upset the odds at a predicted sell-out 60,031 Stade Velodrome on Sunday is another matter.

But with the footballing side of Cardiff falling agonisingly short on Saturday, it is now up to the rugby half to claim the honour and the glory this weekend.

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see also
Blackpool 3-2 Cardiff
22 May 10 |  Championship
Cardiff Blues 28-21 Toulon
23 May 10 |  Welsh
Biarritz 19-21 Toulouse
22 May 10 |  Rugby Union
Sweeney hails superstar Wilkinson
20 May 10 |  Cardiff Blues
Can the Blues buck Welsh trend?
21 May 10 |  Welsh
Wales' record in European finals
23 May 10 |  Welsh
European rugby archive
16 Aug 06 |  Rugby Union
European Challenge Cup 2009/10
21 May 09 |  Rugby Union
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales
Rugby Union commentaries
09 Sep 10 |  Rugby Union

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