It’s fair to say that, results-wise, the first British and Irish Cup campaign for Cardiff’s A side has not been very encouraging at all. One win in six games, weirdly in the hardest game away to eventual group winners Cornish Pirates, meant we were largely relying on bonus points for the competition. There was a draw at home to Nottingham to start, in dreadful conditions at CAP, but we never really kicked on.
In the end it was third place in the pool for Richard Hodges’ side, who finished with nine points, just ahead of Nottingham with six, and well behind Cornish Pirates and London Welsh on 20 and 23 points respectively. The overall problem on the field seemed to be a lack of defensive discipline, with three yellow cards over the six games, and conceding an average of just over 23 points per game. Perhaps a lack of playing together often contributes to that, as the squad is only in it’s first season.
Altogether the A side used 51 players over the BIC campaign and the pre-tournament friendly vs Ospreys A. 12 of those were from the Welsh Premiership, either Pontypridd or Cardiff RFC, giving them valuable experience. There were also 14 senior players used that needed game time with a few of those, like Owen Jenkins, Lewis Jones, Thomas Davies and Miles Normandale, still in the final stages of their development and are at the make or break stage of whether they can push the first team or move on, with the A side being a better place to test that than the Premiership. That principle of A side over Premiership goes for the more senior players looking for game time as well.
The real important stat though is the 25 academy players used by Richard Hodges. Some of those players, like Jarrod Evans, Aled Summerhill, Garyn Smith and Ethan Lewis, are already in and around the first team, but the experience of them playing with the other youngsters who may well form the backbone of the team in the future is invaluable. While for the players yet to break the first team, a taste of proper professional rugby in a fully professional environment is just what they need for their development.
As the gap between the Pro12 and the Premiership widens further, I can only see the A team becoming more important. With that in mind I think top of any agendas to improve the player pathway should be the expansion of the A team season. It is unclear at the moment what is going to happen with the LV Anglo-Welsh Cup next season, but if it doesn’t return I would like to see a full A team fixture list produced, with English and Irish teams as well. If it does, then there is certainly still enough space to put in a Welsh A side fixture list as well as the BIC.
After Leinster’s 25-11 victory over Bath in the Champions Cup at the start of January it was either a journalist or fan on Twitter who mentioned that ‘This win is due to the youngsters playing BIC rugby four years ago’. The future lies in A team rugby, so ignore the results and rate the success of this season in 2019.