The now traditional season curtain raiser, Singha Premiership 7s, returns for it’s third instalment to kick start 2016/17. Two and a half months after the last campaign finished we edge a little closer to the Pro12 starting again as all four Welsh professional clubs gather at Cardiff Arms Park on Friday night.
Cardiff have good pedigree in this still fairly new tournament having won the inaugural Welsh leg back in 2014. Wins against Ospreys and Llanelli before a draw with Newport saw us top the group and head to Twickenham Stoop for the Grand Final. Victory over Leicester sent us to the semi-finals before losing to eventual winners Gloucester.
Things took a downturn last year though as three losses and just one try bonus point saw us left rock bottom of the Welsh group with 14 tries conceded and a minus 42 points difference. Newport were the winners and therefore reigning champions after beating Llanelli with just a three point better difference and ended up winning the whole thing.
2015 Premiership 7s Welsh Leg Report: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/premiership-7s-cardiff-blues-review/
The difference last year was that Cardiff were left behind by Newport certainly, and to an extent Ospreys and Llanelli, in squad selection. Paul John named a side of 11 Cardiff Blues contracted players plus Pontypridd, now Merthyr, centre Gavin Dacey who doesn’t even have particular 7s pedigree. On the other hand the others all named squads made up of 7s specialists with in some cases seriously ropey links to the clubs they were representing.
For this reason 2016 coach Richard Hodges has rung the changes. Over the past two squads only Gavin Dacey has been a non-Cardiff Blues contracted player but this year we have seven. There are justifiable links to each player though with Owen Jenkins, Adam Thomas, Ben Roach and Geraint Walsh all former Cardiff employees, while Joe Tomlinson, Luke Crocker and James Beal are Cardiff RFC players.
Although they do have the associations with the club I can’t help but feel that using these players undermines the competition slightly. They are excellent sevens specialists and will improve the playing quality I’m sure, as the short-sided version of rugby becomes ever further removed from 15-a-side, but it means the whole affair takes on a 7s Barbarians effect with players invited to play for each squad.
When you consider that Cardiff could name a full playing VII of players that aren’t actually contracted employees any win may feel somewhat hollow. I understand winning is important and I’m sure comes with a suitable financial reward, but it seems the competition becomes devalued to an extent by the hiring of sevens professionals for one night.
The rest of the squad is made up of junior members from our academy setup, as it should be for a competition like this. Although there has only been one non-Cardiff Blues contracted player featured before this season, the squads have not been packed with senior players. The last two years have been used in a very developmental role and that aspect of it is very important.
Seb Davies, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith, Aled Summerhill and Owen Lane have all made their first senior appearances in a Cardiff top at the Premiership 7s event, while the likes of Ben Roach, Owen Jenkins and Chris Knight have all gone on to full-time 7s careers having not quite made it in XVs.
So with the squad being made up of non-Cardiff Blues players and inexperienced youngsters, let’s get to know the 12 selected by Richard Hodges;
Joe Tomlinson – Started his rugby career in the Cardiff Blues academy before moving on to Cardiff RFC via Cardiff Metropolitan University. Has made 38 Rags appearances in two years, and also turned out for Cardiff A last season. Aged 23, a hooker in XVs rugby.
Ben Roach – Many of us thought the flanker would get a chance in the Cardiff Blues XVs squad at some point, but has instead chosen to take a Wales 7s central contract. The 22 year old only made five substitute LV Cup appearances alongside some Cardiff A games.
Luke Crocker – The former Wales 7s captain has signed for Cardiff RFC this summer after spending last season with Ebbw Vale. At 26 he has also played for Beddau, Pontypridd and Newport A at flanker. Still involved with the national 7s over the last few months.
Adam Thomas – Made 24 Cardiff appearances since 2014 before being released at the end of last season. The centre/full-back had spent all his career at Pontypridd apart from a year in Southland before that. Another former Wales 7s captain and still involved at 29.
Geraint Walsh – Released back to Pontypridd during last season after not featuring for Cardiff under Danny Wilson. The full-back made nine appearances in 2014/15 having also played for Llantwit Fardre, Llanharan and Western Pioneers of Auckland. Aged 28.
James Beal – Not much is known about the new Cardiff RFC signing. Spent many years at Cardiff Metroplitan University scoring plenty of tries from the wing in the Championship and captaining the students. Has recently represented Great Britain Universities at 7s.
Owen Jenkins – Another player released by Cardiff last season after eight appearances since graduating from the academy. Spent most of his time on the wing at allocated club Pontypridd in recent years. The 23 year old has now taken a full-time Wales 7s contract.
Jim Botham – Onto the academy players and former Cardiff winger Liam’s son. Born and raised in Yorkshire he has moved down to Cardiff to join the youth setup. 18 years old and already a well built athletic flanker he should make a decent 7s player.
Dane Blacker – Plenty of people are very excited by scrum half Blacker who has already made a big impression at Wales U18 level, as well as featuring for Pontypridd’s first team. The 18 year old has come from the very successful Coleg Y Cymoedd side of last season.
Ben Jones – Another player who featured heavily in Wales U18s recent exploits. The 18 year old fly-half completes an exciting looking half-back pairing with Blacker who he has played with at club youth, national youth and college level. Attack minded and creative.
Declan Williams – Treorchy product Williams is another fly-half but one who is equally comfortable at centre and full-back. Also a Coleg Y Cymoedd player the 18 year old has Wales U18 honours and will be one to watch with the junior Cardiff squads.
Ben Thomas – The third academy player in the squad that is comfortable at fly-half, although more likely to make the grade as a centre. Still only 17, he has come through St Peters RFC and now studies at Cardiff and Vale College, who are coached by Dan Fish.
A real mix of 7s experience and raw academy talent in the 2016 Premiership 7s squad as we look to reclaim our crown and avenge last year’s poor performance. Although I do believe the ‘7s player for hire’ aspect has seriously devalued the competition, it’s still a good chance to see some of our future prospects in action. Also, who doesn’t like winning trophies? So, in the end, come on Cardiff!!
Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Fixtures
Date: 7pm, Friday 22 July
Venue: BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park
Newport Gwent Dragons
Buy tickets here
Live on BT Sport from 19:00
19.00 – 19.20 Scarlets v Cardiff Blues
19.25 – 19.45 Ospreys v Newport Gwent Dragons
19.55 – 20.15 Ospreys v Scarlets
20.20 – 20.40 Cardiff Blues v Newport Gwent Dragons
20.50 – 21.10 Scarlets v Newport Gwent Dragons
21.15 – 21.35 Ospreys v Cardiff Blues
Date: 2pm, Sunday 7 August
Venue: Ricoh Arena, Coventry
The top two teams from each group will qualify for the Singha Premiership Rugby 7s Series Final