Cardiff Blues celebrated securing their place in next season’s Heineken Cup with a 28-13 victory against winless Zebre at Cardiff Arms Park on Saturday.
Newport Gwent Dragons’ 31-5 defeat on Friday to Ulster meant they could not catch the Blues, who will be playing in Europe’s premier cup competition next season.
And Cardiff swept Zebre away in the rain, running in three tries to the Italians’ one, including a late score for Jamie Roberts.
The Welsh star and his fellow international Ceri Sweeney said goodbye to the region in style, playing a full part in the victory in what is expected to be their final home game for the region.
The Blues didn’t make the perfect start when they were penalised on three minutes and former Waratahs fly-half Daniel Halangahu took advantage to slot the resulting kick at goal between the posts.
The Blues took their time to work their way back into the game, but levelled when Leigh Halfpenny knocked over a penalty of his own on 11 minutes to make it 3-3.
Seven minutes later and Cardiff grabbed their first try of the afternoon through precocious young fly-half Rhys Patchell, the 19-year-old crossing the line for his first try in the RaboDirect PRO12. Halfpenny was successful with the conversion to give Cardiff a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
The gap between the two sides increased on 23 minutes when Halfpenny was successful with his second penalty, and it looked a long way back for a Zebre side as they searched in vain for their first win of the season.
Shortly before the half-hour mark Zebre thought they had got a foothold back in the game when 29-year-old Halangahu kicked home his second penalty of the afternoon to reduce the gap to one converted try.
But two quick scores leading up to the interval confirmed Cardiff’s dominance, with Halfpenny’s third penalty seven minutes before the break extending their lead to 16-6.
Three minutes later and Zebre were left with a mountain to climb as former Scarlets centre Gavin Evans powered over for Cardiff’s second try of the afternoon in front of the near 10,000-strong crowd.
The dispatching of Zebre winger Leonardo Sarto to the sin bin four minutes before the break left the Italian visitors underpowered at the start of a second half in which both teams struggled to cross the whitewash.
Exeter-bound Ceri Sweeney replaced Patchell on the hour-mark as both sides rung the changes to join Roberts in a winning farewell to the Cardiff fans.
There was little tryline action as the second period drew to a conclusion with Cardiff happy to remain solid and protect their lead in the downpour.
But Roberts secured the try the crowd had come to see with seven minutes remaining when he ran in to finish his Cardiff career in style.
Halfpenny was unable to increase the lead with his conversion and the game looked like ending 28-6 but Zebre refused to go quietly into the night and continued to fight as the clock ran down.
And the Italians were rewarded for their perseverance when replacement Filippo Cristiano struck in the final minute to get their first try on the board. Centre Alberto Chiesa made no mistake with the extras as Zebre finished the game on a high despite the defeat.