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Page last updated at 10:31 GMT, Monday, 18 May 2009 11:31 UK

End of an era at Arms Park

Cardiff Arms Park

By Peter Shuttleworth

The Millennium Stadium's next-door neighbour, the shoulder that Wales' national stadium has leaned on for almost 40 years, saw the end of an era as the old ground hosted elite rugby for the final time on Sunday.

Sadly the Cardiff Blues' current superstars did not feature in the final farewell against Edinburgh.

Their pack of Lions, the hard-working heroes that have brought the glory days back to this famous old club have been rewarded for shocking Europe to reach the Heineken Cup semi-final and winning the EDF Energy Cup, their first trophy since the birth of regional rugby.

Cardiff Blues' Lions players Leigh Halfpenny, Martyn Williams, Tom Shanklin, Gethin Jenkins, Jamie Roberts and Andy Powell
The Blues' pack of Lions before Tom Shanklin's withdrawal due to injury

Martyn Williams, Gethin Jenkins, Jamie Roberts, Leigh Halfpenny and Andy Powell are safely wrapped up in cotton wool by director of rugby Dai Young, ready to take on the might of world champions South Africa this summer.

The famous five alongside Nicky Robinson, Ben Blair, Paul Tito and the reborn Tom Shanklin - ruled out of the Lions tour with a shoulder injury - will be fondly remembered.

They join some of the great names such as Barry John, Gareth Edwards, Gerald Davies and Rob Howley to have graced the Arms Park turf.

Cardiff Rugby Football Club moved from the city's Sophia Gardens in 1881, five years after the club was formed, to a site alongside the River Taff named after the nearby Cardiff Arms Hotel.

As well as club matches, international fixtures were also staged there and Cardiff began a long history of sharing with the national side.

Facilities developed over the years and by 1970 the Cardiff club had moved to its present site - which used to be Glamorgan Cricket's ground - while the national stadium developed next door, becoming the Millennium Stadium.

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A farewell to Arms

It has never been black and white for the Blue and Blacks at the Arms Park, as Cardiff built up a tradition of doing things the hard way.

The first never-to-be-forgotten occasion was Cardiff's transformation against the famous Barbarians in April 1976, when the boys from the capital fought back from a 25-0 deficit to win 29-28 thanks to Gareth Edwards' drop-goal.

Cardiff's stunning comeback to beat the formidable Llanelli team - and their all-star Wales back division - of the 1970s will also live long in the memory.

West Wales' finest had not lost a cup game for four-and-a-half years - winning four Welsh Cup crowns in the process - and were 12-0 up with 33 minutes on the clock, so defeat for the Welsh capital club looked inevitable.

But Cardiff, roared on by a capacity 15,000 crowd, completed an amazing turnaround to win 28-25 in a triumph that was described as their finest since humbling the legendary All Blacks in 1953.

Jonah Lomu
All Black great Jonah Lomu spent a season at the Arms Park with the Blues

Jonathan Davies' return to union from his league exile against Aberavon in 1995, Nigel Walker's crucial Heineken Cup quarter-final score to help beat Bath in 1997 and their naughty but nice success over the men from The Rec during the infamous 'rebel season' in 1998.

Then there are those memories that Cardiff would like to leave at the old place.

Such as when they were the victim of one of the most famous Swalec Cup giant-killings against city rivals St Peter's in 1993, when the minnows reigned 16-14.

Memorable for all the wrong reasons was Cardiff's 31-22 defeat to Swansea in December 1997, as it was the day that the then-Wales captain Gwyn Jones' career was ended prematurely.

The Cardiff flanker and medical student, then aged just 25, damaged his spinal cord when a 13th-minute ruck went wrong.

Further worry that night was when Ivor Jenkins, the father of then-Swansea captain Garin, collapsed in the crowd with a heart attack.

The hooker noticed his dad was in trouble and jumped over the advertising hoardings into the crowd to help Ivor in his hour of need.

While the Arms Park was built for the oval ball, it has staged European football matches.

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Most notable was when striking superstar Jon Dahl Tomasson helped beat Welsh League village side Ton Pentre 7-0 in the Intertoto Cup first round, during his days with Heerenveen of Holland in 1995.

The Arms Park has seen the odd bout of fisticuffs during a rugby game, but nothing has matched Cardiff's own Steve Robinson's WBO featherweight title defence to Naseem Hamed in 1995.

The home-town hero put up a brave fight against the 'Prince' but his resistance was ended in the eighth as Hamed went on to become the king.

But Cardiff's rugby team is the reason why the Arms Park exists. And although Cardiff's semi-professional Principality Premiership side will remain, it is the end of top-class rugby downtown.

The Blues are going out of the city centre to a multi-purpose £38m stadium that the region will share with the Cardiff City football team.

Neil Jenkins
Legendary kicking machine Neil Jenkins was an Arms Park hero

Some of Cardiff's rugby fans have the blues about their favourite team leaving their adored city-centre location, and insist they will not follow, while others support the move.

Blues chief executive Robert Norster defends the decision: "The fact is we have had more than 45,000 people at some of our Heineken Cup games when they've been at the Millennium Stadium.

"We are starting to challenge ourselves to create bigger occasions and quite evidently the facilities that support this wonderful but small stadiums are just not viable in this modern-day professional world."

Whether or not a critical mass of supporters follow, it is perhaps fitting that Cardiff's elite rugby side finally came through its transition period and enjoyed its best season for many years in the final spell at the Arms Park.



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see also
Blues 14-36 Edinburgh
17 May 09 |  Cardiff Blues
Cardiff teams agree ground share
19 Sep 07 |  Wales


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