Cardiff march into quarters
Late try earns Kingsholm victory and keeps 100 percent record intact
Last Updated: 18/01/09 7:33pm
Cardiff prop Gareth Williams on the charge
Gloucester's Heineken Cup hopes are hanging by a thread after a late Bradley Davies try gave 14-man Cardiff Blues a 16-12 win at Kingsholm.
The victory seals Pool Six honours and a place in the last eight for the unbeaten Blues, who prevailed in a hard-fought contest despite having winger Tom James sent off for a head butt in the 27th minute.
A heavy pitch and the zealous approach of referee Alan Lewis made for little in the way of expansive rugby, Olly Barkley kicked all Gloucester's points as the home side led 9-6 at half-time and 12-6 entering the final 10 minutes.
But Leigh Halfpenny's third penalty in the 71st minute and a converted try from substitute lock Davies four minutes later clinched Cardiff's fifth straight win in Europe's premier club competition.
Gloucester picked up a losing bonus point and must win in Biarritz next week - and hope other results go their way - if they are to join Cardiff in the quarter-finals as one of the two best runners up.
Head coach Dean Ryan was forced to make two late changes to Gloucester's starting XV as England pair Mike Tindall (leg) and Olly Morgan (finger) were both ruled out.
Willie Walker replaced Morgan at full-back, while Matthew Watkins moved into midfield as Tindall's deputy and fit-again James Simpson-Daniel lined up on the wing for a first start in three months.
Barkley opened the scoring in the sixth minute with a 52-metre penalty - aided by a strong wind at his back - after Cardiff's front-row had been penalised at the scrum.
The opening quarter-of-an-hour was largely a festival of midfield kicking, although Simpson-Daniel was guilty of wasting an overlap on the left hand side as Gloucester briefly threatened the try line.
Halfpenny and Barkley exchanged straightforward three pointers as Lewis attempted to clamp down on both side's willingness to kill the ball at the ruck.
The Irish official was back in the spotlight in the 27th minute when he sent off Cardiff winger James for head butting Olivier Azam.
A verbal exchange between the pair prompted James to lean forward and clash heads with the Gloucester hooker in full view of Lewis.
Contact was clearly made although Azam's theatrical reaction - rolling around on the floor clutching his face - probably sealed James' fate.
Gloucester's advantage was 9-3 at the break after Barkley added his third penalty - awarded for another attempt to slow down possession at the breakdown - but hit the crossbar with a fourth opportunity.
The visitors immediately halved the deficit at the start of the second half with another Halfpenny penalty following a needless piece of obstruction from lock Marco Bortolami.
Halfpenny, pressed into kicking duties due to Ben Blair's absence, scuffed a penalty chance wide to spurn the opportunity to draw the Blues level.
Cardiff almost scored the opening try on 52 minutes when the video referee was required to determine that scrum-half Jason Spice had been held just short.
Alex Brown's last-ditch tackle prevented Spice burrowing over from close range and Gloucester's pack then held firm to survive unscathed from the subsequent five-metre scrum.
Barkley padded the hosts' advantage to six points with a straightforward 61st-minute penalty and, thanks to another Halfpenny miss, it remained that way until the closing stages.
But Gloucester skipper Luke Narraway was penalised for hands in the ruck right in front of his own posts and this time Halfpenny made no mistake to bring the gap back down to three.
The Welsh side immediately stormed back onto the attack and, after the defence had been worn down by numerous quick phases, replacement Davies crashed over to put Cardiff ahead for the first time in the match.
Halfpenny slotted the touchline conversion to ice the result and complete a personal 11-point haul.
Cardiff are the only team of the 24 in this season's competition to still boast a 100 percent record and - if they collect a bonus-point success at home to Italian whipping boys Calvisano next Friday - will be top seeds in the quarter-final draw.