Caerphilly booked their place in the Parker Pen Shield final despite losing 26-33 in an exciting encounter with Petrarca Padova at Virginia Park on Saturday.
PARKER PEN SHIELD SEMI-FINAL, SECOND LEG
Caerphilly 26-33 Padova
(Caerphilly win 54-43 on agg)
Caerphilly: Tries: Ashman, Lewis 2. Cons: Thomas. Pens: Thomas 3.
Padova: Tries: Francesio, Faggiotto 2, Bergamasco, Soler. Cons: Francesio 4.
Defending an 18-point lead from the first leg away at the Stadio Plebiscito, the Cheesmen were pushed all the way by their Italian visitors but held out for a 54-43 aggregate win.
Caerphilly have been all but discarded in the Welsh Rugby Union's plans for regional rugby next season.
But Mark Ring now has the satisfaction of coaching the last remaining Welsh club in European competition, after Pontypridd bowed out of the Parker Pen Cup to Wasps on Friday night.
With five new regional teams set to represent Wales in cross-border competition from next season, Caerphilly will never compete at this level again.
But the Cheesmen can look forward to going out on a high when they face French side Castres, 78-51 aggregate winners over Pau, in the final at Reading's Madejski Stadium on 25 May.
The home side had to endure a torrid start as Padova took just three minutes to reduce Caerphilly's lead to 11 points through Sebastian Francesio.
The Italy international wing made the outside break, chipped over Owen Ashman and touched down, converting his own try to stun the Virginia Park crowd.
Yet scarcely had the visitors stopped celebrating their early success than the Cheesemen hit back with a try of their own.
Roddy Boobyer made the initial break, brushing aside a weak tackle from Rocco Salvan, before off-loading to Ashman to dive under the posts.
Justin Thomas had an easy conversion to restore Caerphilly's 18-point advantage, but the Italians were in determined mood.
Caerphilly's scrum was put under huge pressure by the Padova eight, giving the visitors a steady platform to launch a wave of attacks at the Welsh line.
The drift defence worked well until Fabio Faggiotto came off his left wing and all it took was a simple inside pass to put him over the line for a converted try.
The tit-for-tat nature of the scoring continued, however, as the Cheesmen won a scrum deep in the Padova 22.
Allen Chilten released the ball to the blindside, catching the Italians short of numbers as Geraint Lewis found just enough space to squeeze in at the right-hand corner flag.
Owain Ashman claimed Caerphilly's opening try
The mirror-image scoring was spoiled by Thomas missing the difficult conversion, but Caerphilly still held a 16-point cushion.
There was a let-off for the Welshmen soon after when Padova's Argentina international full-back Facundo Soler scampered in on the right, only for French referee Eric Darriere to spot an obstruction and call play back.
The scare was enough to bring Caerphilly coach Ring to his feet, the former Wales three-quarter letting his displeasure show.
It took less than five minutes for his side to give a perfect response, working the blindside again to set the backs free.
Rob Higgitt had space to work with but saw a gap behind the Italian defence that demanded a chip ahead.
Lewis, who will retire at the end of this season, was alert to the chance and chased hard to claim his second try in the corner, although Thomas again missed the touchline conversion.
Now leading for the first time in the match and in command of the tie, Caerphilly were further boosted when Francesio was sin-binned.
Down to 14 men for the remainder of the first half, Padova struggled to contain Caerphilly as the Castletowners intelligently let the ball do the work to stretch the visitors' defence.
Ashman made best use of the extra space down the left wing, the full-back creating the overlap and chipping ahead to force Padova to concede a five-metre scrum.
A dropped pass prevented Caerphilly adding their fourth try of the afternoon, but Padova were caught offside and Thomas slotted the penalty to make it 20-14 at the break.
Justin Thomas produced a man-of-the-match performance
The Welsh side invited early pressure on themselves when scrum-half Chiltern was shown the yellow card for jumping offside and deliberately knocking down a pass.
Now it was Padova's turn to take advantage of an extra man, constructing a huge overlap for Faggiotto to claim his second try, although Francesio's missed conversion meant Caerphilly still led 20-19.
The Italians were unable to inflict further damage before Chiltern returned to the action, and Thomas calmed any growing Welsh nerves with his second penalty.
The Cheesmen settled into getting the basics right as Thomas' territorial kicking improved, while his pack followed hooker Feao Vunipola's lead by driving the ball up hard and straight.
The reward was another penalty shot for man-of-the-match Thomas to increase Caerphilly's aggregate lead to 25 points with 15 minutes remaining.
A lapse in concentration allowed Italy centre Mirco Bergamasco to pick up from a ruck and run untouched under the posts to tie the scores on the night 26-26 after Francesio's conversion.
Darren Davies became the second Caerphilly player to earn the referee's ire, the lock shown yellow in injury time, but his remaining seven compatriots in the pack closed ranks.
There was still time for Soler to outpace Ashman to go in under the posts and claim the win on the night, Francesio's conversion making it 33-26 to the Italians
But Caerphilly's first-leg win in Italy had left Padova with too much to claw back and it is the Cheesemen who deservedly advance to face Castres in the final, although they will need better defence against the powerful French.
Caerphilly: Owain Ashman; Ryan Howells, Roddy Boobyer, Rob Higgitt, Geraint Lewis; Justin Thomas (capt), Allen Chilten; Lee Manning, Feao Vunipola, Darren Sweet, Darren Davies, Paul Jones, Gareth Jones, Simon Grainger, Mark Workman.
Replacements: Robert Bilton, Geraint Liddon, Tim Carless, Nic Rouse, Neil Watkins, Fionn McLoughlin, Jarrod Murphy.
Petrarca Padova: Facundo Soler; Fabio Faggiotto, Mirco Bergamasco, Rocco Salvan, Sebastian Francesio; Andrea Marcato, Pietro Travagli; Andrea Muraro, Luigi Ferraro, Michele Matteralia, Daniele Tumiati, Gaston Llanos, Marco Bortolami, Herve Mazzocco, Nicholas Fitisemanu.
Replacements: Giovanni Boccalon, Piegiorgio Monepace, Enrico Bortolato, Roberto Rompazzo, Federico Dalla Nora, Matteo Farsura, Marco Baroni.
Ref: Eric Darriere (France)