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Kiwis in Europe: European glory for former Blues

By Campbell Burnes

Isa Nacewa and Gareth Anscombe are the toast of Leinster and Cardiff Blues respectively.

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The New Zealanders kicked late clutch penalty goals for their clubs as they clinched European Cup glory on the weekend.

The 35-year-old Nacewa is in the last few days of his long and successful career, and won his fourth European Champions Cup winners’ medal with the Irish province after slotting two late penalty goals as Leinster edged Racing-Metro 15-12 in the decider in Bilbao.

Captaining the side, Nacewa assumed the kicking duties from Jonny Sexton and landed a nerveless, angled penalty in the 74th minute before nailing the rather easier 79th minute three points for the win in a tryless season climax. It was not Nacewa’s best game on the left wing – he put two attacking kicks out on the full as he does not have a left foot – but he was otherwise solid under the high ball and ran for 49m.

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The selection of halfback Jamison Gibson-Park and former Wallaby flanker Scott Fardy in the Leinster match-day squad meant there was no room for James Lowe due to the foreign player quota. Gibson-Park had a strong 20-minute cameo with his passing, sniping and box kicking.

Racing-Metro lost Dan Carter to a hamstring strain in the warm-up. Joe Rokocoko made a brief appearance off the bench as an HIA sub, while former Waikato and Manu Samoa hooker Ole Avei and former Taranaki and Manu Samoa prop Census Johnston, now 37, both entered the fray in the second spell for Racing-Metro.

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The game itself never reached any great heights, other than the height of the tackles, which referee Wayne Barnes was swift to penalise.

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Nacewa was unconcerned, describing the occasion as “a magical day”.

“I wish I could be back to put a fifth star on the shirt… there’s a great crew involved now. We’ve taken a step tonight, so let’s build on that.”

Anscombe’s wide-angled and long range 79th minute penalty goal sealed Cardiff Blues’ remarkable 31-30 win over Gloucester some 24 hours earlier at the same venue in the European Challenge Cup final. The former Auckland, Chiefs and Blues pivot, who was named during the week for Wales’ June tour of the Americas, wore the No 15 jersey but was often operating at first receiver for Cardiff. His skill and centre kick set up halfback Tomos Williams for his try.

No 8 Nick Williams made several telling tackles and carries, while 41-year-old prop Taufa’ao Filise got through 40 minutes of work. The midfield combination of Willis Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo was effective, though the former was guilty of grassing two balls.

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Gloucester led at the break and looked dangerous early on the counter-attack, but it was not to be for the New Zealand contingent of fullback Jason Woodward, wing Tom Marshall, props John Afoa and Josh Hohneck, and replacement forwards Motu Matu’u and Jeremy Thrush.

This weekend sees the semifinals of both the Aviva Premiership and the Guinness PRO14 – in which Leinster host Irish rivals Munster – while the French Top 14 moves into ‘les barrages”, the playoffs to go into the semifinals.

In other news:

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finn 10 hours ago
Massive red flag raised by weakened Champions Cup teams – Andy Goode

I wonder if the problem of some teams not taking it that seriously would be helped by making performance in the champions cup count towards qualification and/or seeding in the following year’s competition. Eg. top four seeds would be winners of the URC, premiership, and top 14, plus best performing team in the previous year’s CC who have not otherwise qualified. Doing that the seedings for this years comp. would have been: Tier one: Saracens - Munster - Toulouse - la Rochelle Tier two: Sale - Stormers - Racing 92 - Leinster Tier three: Leicester - Connacht - Bordeaux - Exeter Tier four: Northampton - Ulster - Lyon - Sharks Tier five: Harlequins - Glasgow - Stade Francais - Edinburgh Tier six: Bath - Bulls - Toulon - Ospreys The competition would probably work better with fewer teams, so I’d probably favour only the first 4 tiers being invited, and then going straight to a quarter final without a round of 16. On the one hand this would possibly incentivise teams to take the champions cup seriously, and on the other it would mean that the latter stages would be more likely to involve teams that have demonstrated a willingness to take the competition seriously. The main differences between my proposed system and the actual draw is that mine would give la Rochelle a fairly easy ride to the quarters, and would either exclude the Bulls entirely or would give then an insurmountably difficult draw. As it happened Exeter got quite an easy pool draw but that was a bit of a fluke. My system would reward Exeter for being one of the teams that demonstrably devote a lot of attention to the CC by guaranteeing them a good draw.

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