Cardiff Blues head to the Amlin Challenge Cup after recording an emphatic 45-20 victory over Harlequins at the Stoop on Sunday
Cardiff Blues' Heineken Cup dream may be over for another season but an emphatic 45-20 victory over Harlequins at the Stoop on Sunday means they at least remain in European competition.
The Welsh side drop into the Amlin Challenge Cup, the continent's second-tier tournament, at the expense of Sale Sharks, and full-back Ben Blair contributed 20 points with a try, a penalty and six conversions.
The game settled the final line-up for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals:
Connacht v Bourgoin
Toulon v Scarlets
London Wasps v Gloucester
Newcastle Falcons v Cardiff Blues
Cardiff knew they still had a chance to keep their European campaign alive and started with a strong line-up, but Harlequins stunned the visitors with a try after only 70 seconds as George Lowe raced in wide on the left after being set-up by David Strettle. The conversion attempt was missed by Evans.
It took Cardiff seven minutes to launch their first effective attack, and it could have been rewarded with points had scrum-half Richie Rees not delayed his pass to the left wing. The move broke down shortly after when they were penalised for not releasing.
Quins increased their lead in the 11th minute when Rory Clegg boomed over a penalty from near halfway. Cardiff missed their first kick at goal a minute later when Blair's 35-yard attempt sailed wide.
However, once their pack got up a head of steam in a driving maul, Quins were driven backwards and when Rees fired the ball to the right Gareth Thomas crossed the line unopposed after 15 minutes, with Blair converting.
Quins were struggling again as Cardiff turned up the heat through their rampaging pack and had to concede consecutive penalties on their line to survive. It did not last.
When the half-backs worked the ball left, Casey Laulala's wonderfully timed pass armed Blair to score Cardiff's second try on 20 minutes, with Blair also adding the conversion.
England number eight Nick Easter touched down for Harlequins in the 24th minute, put in by Danny Care after a battering burst by Chris Brooker, with Clegg missing the conversion. But once they regained possession, Cardiff were back camped in the home team's 22.
The pressure had to tell and when Ceri Sweeney finished off another tremendous build-up – again involving Laulala, Blair's conversion put the Welsh in the driving seat, and they fastened their seat-belts when Easter conceded a stupid penalty and was sin-binned by Irish referee George Clancy.
Quins' demolition seemed complete when Xavier Rush rounded off another multi-phased attack with a try on the right, and Blair made it four conversions out of four. But with their first decent piece of ball in an age, Quins struck on 39 minutes.
Chris Robshaw tapped down a lineout and Care scampered clear up to the left for a try Clegg converted from a difficult angle.
Blair missed two penalties in the first six minutes of the second half, lapses that clearly lifted the home side, who welcomed Easter back from the bin.
But a fifth try for Blues on 49 minutes, scored with pace and power between the posts by Lions centre Jamie Roberts, and converted by Blair, took the visitors 15 points clear. That gap was extended further when Blair punished offside with a penalty after 57 minutes.
Try number six sparked a mass exodus of disenchanted home fans as Gary Powell shook off three poor tackles before sending Roberts clear for his second try, and Blair kicked his sixth conversion out of six.
Tries: Lowe, Easter, Care
Cons: Thomas, Blair, Sweeney, Rush, Roberts 2
For Cardiff Blues:
Tries: Thomas, Blair, Sweeney, Rush, Roberts 2
Cons: Blair 6
Yellow card(s): Easter (Harlequins) – off-side, 33.
Harlequins:15 Nick Evans, 14 David Strettle, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Jordan Turner-Hall, 11 Ugo Monye, 10 Rory Clegg, 9 Danny Care, 8 Nick Easter, 7 Will Skinner, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 Lewis Stevenson, 4 James Percival, 3 John Andress, 2 Chris Brooker, 1 Ceri Jones.
Replacements:16 Aston Croall, 17 Joe Marler, 18 James Johnston, 19 Tom Guest, 20 Neil McMillan, 21 Karl Dickson, 22 Nils Mordt, 23 George Lowe.
Cardiff Blues15 Ben Blair, 14 Leigh Halfpenny, 13 Casey Laulala, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 Tom James, 10 Ceri Sweeney, 9 Richie Rees, 8 Xavier Rush, 7 Martyn Williams, 6 Andy Powell, 5 Deiniol Jones, 4 Bradley Davies, 3 Faao Filise, 2 Gareth Williams, 1 Gethin Jenkins (c).
Replacements:16 T Rhys Thomas, 17 Sam Hobbs, 18 Gary Powell, 19 Paul Tito, 20 Ben White, 21 Gareth Cooper, 22 Sam Norton-Knight, 23 Tom Shanklin.
Referee: George Clancy
Assistant referees: Alan Rogan (Ireland), Jude Quinn (Ireland)