A bright summer’s Saturday afternoon in Cardiff saw rugby return at he BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park for the first time in the 2015/16 season. The second edition of the Singha Premiership Sevens Welsh group again pitted Newport Gwent Dragons, Llanelli Scarlets, Ospreys and, of course, Cardiff Blues, against one another in a Judgement Day of short-sided rugby as the season curtain raiser becomes tradition.
With the only form to go on coming from last year’s event, Cardiff and Newport were the teams to beat, having only been separated by a point, courtesy of a Cardiff penalty try in the final minute of the final game, with both progressing to finals day at Twickenham Stoop. On that occasion, Llanelli had come third, while Ospreys had come very last, picking up just one try bonus point all day.
Cardiff named a similarly inexperienced side to the squad that appeared last year, only Ellis Wyn Benham, Ben Roach, Owen Jenkins and Seb Davies returning to defend their title. The pleasing aspect for Cardiff coach and Academy manager, Richard Hodges, is that 10 of the 12 players are academy graduates, only Chris Knight from Llandovery, and the surprise of the squad, Gavin Dacey of Pontypridd, not coming through the development pathway. However, both have Wales sevens experience, along with Lewis Jones, Ben Roach and Garyn Smith, to compliment the exciting potential of Mike Hale and Jarrod Evans.
First up was last year’s whipping boys, Ospreys, however the Swansea side proved they were here to play a bit more this year, as the teams traded tries twice in the first half to reach the break even, Owen Jenkins and Harry Davies on the scoresheet. With the second half underway it appeared that the sevens squad had a tribute act to the 15-a-side Cardiff team of last season planned, as they didn’t start playing after half-time until Ospreys had scored three tries. By the time they did re-appear it was too late to salvage anything from the match result, although tries from Ben Roach and Ellis Wyn Benham did at least mean a try scoring bonus point.
After beating Newport in their first game, Llanelli were up next for us, with a win vital to keep any hope of a top two finish alive. After a tense first half, the score was just 5-0 to the West Wales side at half-time, and now I shall give you three guesses what happened at the start of the second half. Yep, you were right first time, Cardiff didn’t bother playing. Three tries later and it was 26-0 to Llanelli, with the host club on the way out of the tournament already. A very late Mike Hale try did nothing to diminish the embarrassing scoreline, 26-5 at full time.
So all that was left to do was to try and stop Newport qualifying for the Final in a few weeks by beating them in the final game of the day, at least get some joy out of an otherwise dreary day. In one of the best games of the day things, predictably, didn’t quite go to plan for Cardiff early on, with Newport going 12-0 up, before Owen Jenkins crossed for his second try of the day to make it 12-5 at half time. Yet again, Cardiff conceded as the second period began, and a yellow card meant we were down to six and on the back foot. But finally some fighting spirit showed, Mike Hale crossing for his second of the day, with Ben Roach making it a hat-trick of Cardiff braces, either side of a Newport score, to leave a full-time result of 31-19, enough to the see Newport top the group by points difference over Llanelli.
An all round disappointing day, especially with the Sevens following a heavy 7-50 loss to Coventry for Cardiff RFC. However, as mentioned earlier, Ospreys matched our single point in last year’s sevens competitions, and they were easily the best Welsh team last season. Plus, it means we don’t have to send a squad to Twickenham the day before we play Newport at home in a 15-a-side friendly. So pros and cons, who said this is blog was pessimistic! Although there’s a long way to go in the season yet….