After a long season of tough international and club rugby, dating back to August 2015 for a large number of players, it was time for the always loved Summer international tours where Northern Hemisphere sides head down under and prove how poor they really are by losing to the Rugby Championship superpowers. I might be a bit cynical about them, I don’t know if you can tell.
A grand total of seven Cardiff Blues players were named in the Wales squad to take on the toughest task in world rugby, a tour of New Zealand. Captain Sam Warburton was joined by our captain Gethin Jenkins and Kristian Dacey, Josh Turnbull, Lloyd Williams, Gareth Anscombe and Tom James. Soon to join full-back Matthew Morgan was also among the travelling party. Alex Cuthbert and Cory Allen missed out through injury, while Ellis Jenkins and Rhys Patchell were left at home.
Before the squad left for NZ they were forced to play a friendly against England at Twickenham, for money making purposes ahead of any rugby reason. An experimental XV saw no Cardiff players in the starting side, although Kris Dacey, Gethin Jenkins, Josh Turnbull, Lloyd Williams and Gareth Anscombe all appeared off the bench. In a 27-13 loss nobody covered themselves in any glory. The only Cardiff positive was an injury to Dan Lydiate saw Ellis Jenkins called up.
Ellis was straight onto the bench for the first test two weeks later at Eden Park, making his debut in the 72nd minute replacing Warburton. Gethin Jenkins started for the first time internationally since the previous Autumn and Gareth Anscombe had 15 minutes late in the game as Wales went down 39-21 in a brave but ultimately well-beaten fashion.
Bizarrely Gatland’s men were back in action four days later when they played Super Rugby side Chiefs in Waikato, the first tour match for a good few years. Matthew Morgan, Josh Turnbull and Tom James all got a full 80 under their belts, while Sam Warburton also played for just over a half as a late replacement for Ellis Jenkins who picked up a slight knock. Unfortunately the Wales side was battered 40-7 by the club side, the only upside being Kris Dacey’s try scoring substitute appearance.
Following this bad performance there was some disappointing injury news for Lloyd Williams and Gareth Anscombe who both missed the Chiefs game through injuries that would keep them out of the rest of the tour. As a result of this Llanelli bound Rhys Patchell was called up after a fine Cardiff season and started at full-back, the very position he’s leaving Cardiff to avoid, in the second test.
Sam Warburton and Gethin Jenkins were also in the XV, while Ellis Jenkins recovered from his injury to make a five minute cameo. Unfortunately none of them could stop a strong NZ side taking the series with a 36-22 win in Wellington, before rounding off the Summer tour with a 46-6 hammering in Dunedin, Gethin Jenkins sitting that one out with a knock.
All round disappointing for the Wales team, but on a Cardiff note there were no serious injuries and no disgraced players, with Ellis Jenkins finally getting international recognition a great moment. Unfortunately the poor performance of the senior team had rubbed off on the U20 boys at the Junior World Championship in Manchester.
Overall 10 Cardiff Blues youngsters were selected in the squad with Corey Domachoswki, Dillon Lewis, Jarrod Evans and Harri Millard all having made their senior debuts this season, while Kieron Assirratti, Liam Belcher, Seb Davies, Shane Lewis-Hughes and Morgan Sieniawski had successful Welsh Premiership campaigns. RGC1404 hot prospect Rhun Williams was selected ahead of his move to CAP for the coming season.
Domachowski, Lewis, Lewis-Hughes, Millard and Williams were all selected to start for the reigning U20 Six Nations Champions, while Liam Belcher and Jarrod Evans would make appearances off the bench as the side went down 25-26 to Ireland in their opening game. It was all change for game two as only Lewis-Hughes and Williams kept their places, Belcher and Evans this time starting along with Davies. Domachowski, Lewis and Sieniawski were all substitutes for the 10-9 narrow win over Georgia.
For the final group game against New Zealand U20s there was a recall for Domachowski, Lewis and Millard alongside the retained Lewis-Hughes, Davies and Williams. Belcher, Sieniawski and Evans were left with bench duties and the Baby Blacks were pushed all the way in a 18-17 loss. Unfortunately this meant we would again face NZ in the next round.
Williams and Millard were both ruled out through injury but there was a big piece of news as an all-Cardiff tight-five of Domachowski, Belcher, Lewis, Davies and Lewis-Hughes started in a bright side for us. There was nothing they could do on this day though as New Zealand absolutely blew Wales away in a 71-12 win. Evans and Sieniawski came off the bench that day but started along with six other Cardiff players against Scotland in the seventh place-play off, while Assiratti and Belcher came off the bench for a full set.
Lewis and Lewis-Hughes both scored tries, as did Evans along with five conversions, in a 42-19 win to cap off a disappointing performance. Many of the Cardiff players headed off on holidays with their U20 days behind them and a big future ahead of them in the senior set up at CAP though. Exciting times are coming!
Elsewhere over the summer Rey Lee-Lo has been in international action in the Pacific Nations Cup. The centre played 240 minutes of rugby over a Georgian friendly and two competitive games with Fiji and Tonga as his Samoan side finished runners-up. Playing twice at 13 and once at 12 he showed his versatility but was not able to trouble the scoresheet in any games. He does return injury free though after a strong debut season in Cardiff.
Meanwhile over the pond the Americans played two international matches against Italy in San Jose and Russia in Sacramento. Blaine Scully and Cam Dolan both played a full 80 minutes in both matches as their side lost 20-24 to the Italians before a 25-0 win over the Russians. Dolan did manage to pick up a yellow card from number 8 in the first game, while Blaine Scully captained the side in the second game from the left wing. More good injury free news for our American contingent as they look to build on solid starts to their Cardiff careers.
Great Britain 7s
In an abnormal addition to the Cardiff Blues international roundup this summer there is also some interest in the short-sided game with Cory Allen selected in the wider Team GB training squad for the Olympic Games. As a form of trial there were two GB sides entered in the European 7s Grand Prix circuit with Allen representing the Royals.
Out in Moscow on the first stop he was part of the plate winning squad, before winning the Cup in Exeter, scoring one try at each tournament. Unfortunately he picked up a knock in the Exeter final and was forced to sit out the last leg before Rio where the two GB sides met each other in the final. This ultimately went against the Wales centre and he was left out of the travelling party.
So the summer of international rugby has come to an end and we can now look to the Premiership 7s this week and the pre-season friendlies next month before the Pro12 kicks off in September. No major injuries picked up during the international window is a very positive thing and hopefully the players will be back in training in time for the early stages of the 2016/17 season. Come on Cardiff!