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Page last updated at 14:23 GMT, Saturday, 10 October 2009 15:23 UK

Cardiff Blues 20-6 Harlequins

Cardiff Blues (6) 20
Tries: James, Halfpenny Cons: Blair (2) Pens: Blair (2)
Harlequins (3) 6
Pen: Evans (2)

Leigh Halfpenny
Leigh Halfpenny scores his fifth try in nine Heineken Cup appearances

Leigh Halfpenny's late try and an heroic defensive effort secured Cardiff Blues victory in their Heineken Cup Group Five opener against Harlequins.

Wales wing Halfpenny out-ran the Quins defence to convert Deiniol Jones' long kick forward to earn last season's European semi-finalists a battling win.

Tom James scored the hosts' first try just after half-time following a great break from the Blues back-line.

Ben Blair kicked 10 points but the hosts' defence earned most plaudits.

Harlequins' very participation in Europe is a controversial topic following the fake blood scandal that engulfed them following last season's Heineken Cup quarter-final defeat by Leinster.

Quins escaped from being thrown off the lucrative competition after the European Rugby Cup board ruled they could continue - and the English side could have snatched their first game back after 'Bloodgate.'

The Guinness Premiership strugglers pounded the Blues try-line in the final quarter-of-an-hour as the Blues shed tears, sweat and, dare you say it, blood to keep out Quins.

England wing David Strettle looked set to pounce on an overlap 10 minutes from time but full-back Mike Brown somehow dropped the ball from Tosh Masson's pass inches from the try-line as the Blues defence breathed a brief sigh of relief.

The Quins bombardment, though, showed no sign of let-up as Will Skinner and Brown continued to bulldoze towards the lin,e but the brave Blues backline held out as the ball was turned over - and the hosts broke away to score a last-minute clincher.

It was a dramatic, entertaining and full-blooded finale to an otherwise uninspiring spectacle in a sparsely-populated first European rugby showpiece at the new Cardiff City Stadium.

But Blues coach Dai Young would care little about the performance with home wins crucial in Europe, especially after his side's stuttering start to the season that had heralded just one win.

Blair began the game trading penalties with Harlequins kicking rival Nick Evans before the Quins fly-half uncharacteristically missed two relatively straight-forward kicks in an uneventful first-half.

But either side of Evans' misses, the hosts suffered an injury blow as former Wales captain Gareth Thomas was forced off in the 23rd minute after pulling a groin muscle as he was set free down the right wing.


Such is the depth of Dai Young's squad, though, the Blues coach was able to unleash Lions star Halfpenny as a replacement.

But the first-half war of attrition was not Halfpenny's style of game - and it was a battle that put Blues skipper Paul Tito in hospital.

Quins were enjoying their best break of the opening half as Lewis Stevenson and then Chris Robshaw smashed through the Cardiff backline.

And when the ball was recycled, Argentine battering ram Gonzalo Tiesi crashed head first into Tito's head and sent the New Zealand hardman crashing to the ground.

The talismanic lock looked dazed and confused and needed five minutes of treatment from Blues medics before being stretchered off and rushed to hospital.

The Blues managed to hold onto their slender half-time lead before forcing home their minimal territorial advantage within three minutes of the restart.

Halfpenny's ambitious 50-yard penalty came back off the post and Quins were penalised for not clearing the danger sufficiently.

Wales centre Jamie Roberts' lovely sidestep sent him clear on the kind of break that earned him the Lions man-of-the-series in South Africa.

Paul Tito is carried off
Paul Tito is stretchered off after a clash of heads with Gonzalo Tiesi

Roberts teed up midfield partner Tom Shanklin, who in turn set up the rampaging Sam Norton-Knight to scamper clear although the Australian fly-half had to offload to James to finish the job and score the easiest of tries - his third in Europe.

The Blues' first European score of the season was the flowing style of attacking rugby that made then such a force last season - and the kind of attractive rugby that was lacking in the opening period.

The 2009 EDF Energy Cup winners were on top and could have extended their lead if Halfpenny had made amends for his earlier penalty misdemeanour, but the replacement missed another long-range penalty goal.

Evans finally found his range to drag Quins bag into the game with a penalty and the visitors may live to rue their decision to take a line-out and not go for goal when Tani Fuga was fouled after Brown's break.

The Guinness Premiership side were, again, their own worst enemies in the final 10 minutes when the try-line was at their mercy.

But the Blues survived before Halfpenny scored his fifth try in nine European appearances following a huge clearance from lock Jones.

Quins were left to rue missed opportunities and absent friends, with Ugo Monye, Danny Care and Nick Easter all rested under the elite player agreement with England.

But perhaps Quins may just count themselves lucky they are in Europe at all.

Cardiff Blues boss David Young:

"It was an expensive win for us in terms of injuries. Paul Tito has gone to hospital for a scan following a bump to his head. He's not feeling too grand at the minute, but he is walking about and talking.

"A lot of our plans went out of the window because we had to re-jig things too much.

"When we get opportunities, we are still not scoring consistently. There have been two or three occasions this season when we have opened up a 10-point gap and then not kicked on."

Harlequins captain Will Skinner:

"We realise that we had opportunities, but we just weren't clinical enough.

"We have got to be more clinical. We know it will be tough next weekend (against French giants Toulouse), but we will up for it.

"You have to win your home games in this competition."

Blues: Ben Blair; Gareth Thomas, Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts, Tom James; Sam Norton-Knight, Richie Rees; John Yapp, Gareth Williams, Taufa'au Filise, Bradley Davies, Paul Tito (capt), Andy Powell, Sam Warburton, Xavier Rush.
Replacements: T Rhys Thomas, Darren Morris, Gary Powell (for Filise, 66), Deiniol Jones (for Davies, 33), Robin Sowden Taylor (for Tito, 39), Gareth Cooper, Ceri Sweeney, Leigh Halfpenny (for Thomas, 24).

Harlequins: Mike Brown; David Strettle, Gonzalo Tiesi, Tosh Masson, Gonzo Camacho; Nick Evans, Steve So'oialo; Ceri Jones, Tani Fuga, Mark Lambert, Lewis Stevenson, Jim Evans, Chris Robshaw, Will Skinner, Tom Guest.
Replacements: Chris Brooker (for Fuga, 60), Aston Croall, John Andress (for Lambert, 60), Shane O'Connor (for J Evans, 60), Neil McMillan, Gareth Williams, Rory Clegg, George Lowe (for Carnacho, 37).

Referee: Alan Lewis (Ireland)

Att: 11,127

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see also
Harlequins avoid ban from Europe
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Richards resigns Harlequins post
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Quins stunned by fake injury fine
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Quins substitution under scrutiny
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Harlequins 5-6 Leinster
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European rugby archive
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