Cardiff Blues v Gloucester Rugby Challenge Cup final: head to head – Guinness PRO14

Will Thompson
10 May 2018

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The Blues meet the Cherry & Whites in Bilbao on Friday night when Gloucester take on Cardiff in the Challenge Cup final.

Gareth Anscombe, Cardiff Blues

It promises to be one of the most intense battles of the season, with both teams impressing on their journey for European glory.

Gloucester overpowered Newcastle Falcons 33-12 at Kingsholm in the first semi-final, while Blues edged Top 14 team Pau 16-10 at Cardiff Arms Park in the other.

As the pinnacle of both their seasons, the two sides will be firing on all cylinders come the weekend, but it will be the key head-to-heads that may prove the difference in Spain.

Gareth Anscombe v Jason Woodward

These two full-backs have come to the fore in recent weeks, excelling in attack to provide a threat from deep.

Blues have played their best rugby in the Challenge Cup this season, with Anscombe providing the winning try against Pau that sent them to the final.

The 26-year-old has seen a peak in form at just the perfect time for the final having scored in his last two games, including a wonder try against Ospreys where he danced through numerous defenders to touch down.

Having played most of his rugby at fly-half, Anscombe has the brain to pick some incisive lines while also providing another option at first receiver to pull the strings when Evans is out of the phase.

However, Jason Woodward has constantly impressed this season as well and has been central to much of Gloucester’s success in the Challenge Cup and the Premiership.

Woodward was man-of-the-match in Gloucester’s semi-final victory over the Falcons, with the triple threat of his electric pace, power, and intelligence forming a deadly attacking presence.

Setting up two tries in that semi-final with his blistering pace and smart offloads, the 27-year-old performed so well that there have been claims he deserves an England jersey for the South Africa tour this summer.

With the two full-backs lining up opposite each other on Friday, it may come down to who is the most clinical and can make the most of their chances on the big stage.

Ellis Jenkins v Ruan Ackermann

Not only will the game be won by who is more clinical, but the battle at the breakdown is a huge part of building the platform for success and these two flankers will be instrumental in that.

As the outstanding player in Blues’ semi-final triumph, Ellis Jenkins will be going into the final with confidence.

The 25-year-old proved a threat at the breakdown against Pau, stealing ball after ball in the ruck and winning vital penalties for his side that provided fly-half Jarrod Evans the opportunity to kick Blues to safety.

This was demonstrated in the game’s final moments as he won yet another penalty at the breakdown to seal the victory with Pau threatening a late comeback, a feat he has performed all season long.

Facing off against Jenkins on Friday night will be youngster Ruan Ackermann, who has been sensational at Gloucester in his first season.

Ackermann has been dangerous with ball in hand, scoring three tries for the Cherry & Whites while also making 259 carries in the Premiership this season, the second-most from any team.

The flanker has also made 220 tackles and 12 turnovers in the league, while he scored Gloucester’s first try in the Challenge Cup this season in the first game against Pau to get the West Country side on track.

Both will be a hoping to influence the game in Bilbao but only one will end the match victorious, and their performances may well end up deciding the game.

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