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Page last updated at 06:34 GMT, Friday, 21 May 2010 07:34 UK

Can Cardiff Blues buck Welsh rugby's European trend?

Gethin Jenkins supports centre Jonny Bryant in Pontypridd's failed bid for Challenge Cup glory in 2002
Gethin Jenkins supports centre Jonny Bryant in Pontypridd's failed bid for Challenge Cup glory against Sale in 2002

by Gareth Roberts
BBC Sport Wales

Cardiff Blues cannot be accused of following in the footsteps of many predecessors as they contemplate what lies ahead in Marseille on Sunday where they face Toulon in the Amlin Challenge Cup Final.

Not for Dai Young's side the comfortable route of making their home ground a fortress and sneaking occasional wins away from home.

Instead they have become trendsetters in top-flight sport, having won their last eight away games, including the 55-20 Cup quarter-final at Newcastle, followed by an even more impressive 18-15 win in the mud and rain at Wasps.

In that last triumph the Blues overcame the disadvantage of conditions that should have undermined the off-loading style that has made them such a potent threat since the turn of the year.

Those factors - away wins and beating the opposition and conditions - have shown the Blues capable of bucking trends.

606: DEBATE
bedfordwelsh

And that, allied with the confidence boosted by recent form, is what they hope can carry them to victory against Toulon's star-studded French Top 14 side.

Having already tasted defeat in a Challenge Cup final, Wales and British and Irish Lions prop Gethin Jenkins says Toulon will be under greater pressure at Stade Velodrome while the Blues can take a more relaxed mindset to the south of France.

Jenkins and fly-half Ceri Sweeney played in Pontypridd's 25-22 defeat by Sale in the 2002 Challenge Cup final and the prop says: "On the road we've built a lot of confidence. I don't know what it is - we've gone there, got the job done, been pretty relaxed on the road.

"Having the minority of fans has spurred us on - when you're back's against the wall there's no pressure to win away from home.

"I think Sunday's the same. All the pressure is on Toulon. They've played a few home games there.

We ground out a win against Wasps and it's really put us in good stead for this weekend

Gethin Jenkins

"Everyone's expecting them to turn up and beat us quite easily so we know how we can put our game on them and we're confident we can compete and get a win.

"I don't think the Wasps conditions suited the way we've been playing. For the five weeks before that we'd been playing some good, expansive rugby and then we had to resort to the conditions for that game.

"That was all it was about that day. We didn't care how we did it, it was about winning the game. They didn't play much rugby and we struggled to play a bit ourselves because of the conditions.

"But we ground out a win and it's really put us in good stead for this weekend.

"So we're hoping the good weather out there [Marseille] and the firm surface will suit us."

However, in 15 years of trying, no Welsh team has won European silverware. Glorious failure was the outcome for Pontypridd in 2002 and Cardiff RFC in the inaugural 1996 Heineken Cup final when they took Toulouse to extra time before succumbing 21-18.

Caerphilly competed in the now-defunct third-tier 2003 European Shield competition and were a comfortable second best in a 40-12 defeat by Castres.

THE ROAD TO THE FINAL
CARDIFF BLUES
Quarter-final: Newcastle 20-55 Blues
Semi-final: Wasps 15-18 Blues
TOULON
Quarter-final: Toulon 38-12 Scarlets
Semi-final: Connacht 12-19 Toulon

But failure on the big Heineken Cup stage has caused most angst among Welsh rugby fans, players and officials.

For all the effort and sacrifice that went into the creation of at first five and then four professional teams, there has been nothing but disappointment in Europe's biggest cross-border tournament.

The vastly superior budgets available to French clubs and fluctuations in the comparative value of sterling against Euro have undoubtedly contributed to Welsh teams' fates.

It could be the same on Sunday with Blues boss Dai Young pointing out Toulon have been able to mimic the likes of Munster and Leinster by effectively running two squads - one for domestic purposes and the other to take on the challenge of Europe.

However, in Toulon's case it seems their best resources have been ploughed into the Top 14 that brought second place in the regular season before play-off extra-time defeat by Clermont Auvergne on Sunday.

That leaves Toulon's mental state somewhat of a mystery. Will they view Sunday's clash as a chance to redeem their season or a shallow reminder of the Top 14 crown that got away?

Jenkins, his team-mates and Welsh rugby's ever-hopeful but so far disappointed fans will find out soon enough.



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see also
Cardiff Blues 28-21 Toulon
23 May 10 |  Welsh
Blues coach Young wary of Toulon
19 May 10 |  Cardiff Blues
Wales' record in European finals
23 May 10 |  Welsh
Blues heading for 'biggest game'
11 May 10 |  Welsh
Scarlets bid for Blues Cup favour
03 May 10 |  Welsh
European rugby archive
16 Aug 06 |  Rugby Union
European Challenge Cup 2009/10
21 May 09 |  Rugby Union
Scrum V's Welsh rugby webguide
14 Aug 07 |  Welsh
France country profile
12 Feb 12 |  Country profiles
Rugby Union commentaries
09 Sep 10 |  Rugby Union
BBC Sport Wales coverage
03 Oct 11 |  Wales


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