Rugby is back! Well, kind of, it’s 7s but it’ll do. Nearly three months since the 2015/16 Pro12 season ended the now traditional new season curtain raiser of the Singha Premiership Sevens rolled into Cardiff Arms Park.
Cardiff named a mixture of a squad with five tier 2 academy players joined by three full-time Wales 7s, two Cardiff RFC and a Pontypridd RFC player. As explained on the preview to the tournament, I do feel this devalues the event somewhat as rather than Cardiff Blues 7s being represented it becomes more of a Cardiff 7s Barbarians side, or a Cardiff 7s Select in the mould of the British and Irish Cup. Nevertheless, it involved a rugby ball and they were playing in a Cardiff kit which will do for me.
Game 1: Cardiff v Ospreys
The evening kicked off with a game against our Swansea rivals and coach for the evening Richard Hodges named an experience starting side with all three Wales players, Adam Thomas, Owen Jenkins and Ben Roach, being joined by former Wales 7s international Geraint Walsh and current GB University 7s James Beal. Alongside them were the academy players Dane Blacker and Ben Thomas both on their first professional senior outings.
A cagey start to the game saw Ospreys keeping possession in midfield and struggling to break down an organised Cardiff defence. It eventually took a chip over the top to try and create something and a lucky bounce saw the ball break for the opposition, only for Jenkins to cynically trip the Ospreys man. A yellow card and a penalty try were awarded with Jonathan Spratt taking advantage of us being a man down to make the score 0-10.
We did eventually return to full compliment when Jenkins returned from however long you’re in the sin bin in 7s, and Walsh soon had a chance when A. Thomas released him but the ball was spilled. It was A. Thomas himself who crossed for our first try after Jenkins managed to produce an offload out of nowhere and a fantastic pick up from the former Wales 7s captain meant he could dive over.
5-10 down at half-time but it was all Cardiff in the second half as tries from Jenkins and Luke Crocker with his first touch off the bench, plus a B. Thomas conversion, saw us take a 17-10 lead that an unconverted Ospreys try in the corner couldn’t catch. A solid opening win against potentially tricky opponents to give us a good footing in the tournament.
Game 2: Newport 26-12 Scarlets
Game 3: Newport 19-21 Ospreys
Game 4: Cardiff v Llanelli
Richard Hodges stuck with the same starting VII for game two against the West Wales side which produced a huge first half performance. Owen Jenkins opened the scoring by diving over following a quick tap penalty, before directly from the restart Llanelli spilled the ball to Ben Roach who found A. Thomas and then Dane Blacker to fly down the touchline. To cap it off James Beal grabbed a try after Geraint Walsh made a half break.
15-0 up and cruising at half-time but Llanelli made a game of it in the second half with two quick tries, one of which was converted, to come within three points. However Luke Crocker again made an impact off the bench putting in a huge hit and winning the turnover before offloading to Ben Roach for an easy finish. A successful conversion from Declan Williams meant a final-time score of 22-12 and a bonus point win.
Game 5: Llanelli 5-24 Ospreys (Ospreys qualify)
Game 6: Cardiff v Newport
So after the Ospreys beat the night’s whipping boys of Llanelli they had secured qualification. With the top two going through to the Grand Final it was a straight shootout between Cardiff and Newport to join them. Richard Hodges made two changes to the starting VII, bringing in Luke Crocker and Jim Botham in place of Ben Roach and Geraint Walsh for some fresher legs.
It was an ever-present in the starting side though that struck first as Dane Blacker was on hand to sprint down the left wing after Newport’s Aled Brew spilled the kick-off. The reigning Premiership 7s champions struck back though with three tries before half-time as Cardiff legs seemed to be getting tired at the end of the night.
Looking down the barrel of a battering momentum swung back in our direction though when the referee started reaching for the pocket in our favour. First Ethan Davies was yellow carded for an off-the-ball incident involving Owen Jenkins who promptly went down the other end and scored a try, converted by Declan Williams. In the act of scoring Jenkins received a dangerous swinging arm to the face which was punished by another yellow card to send Newport down to five men.
All the pressure was on Cardiff now with a two-man advantage and it got to Adam Thomas who spilled the ball in the redzone. Fortunately the ball came back and Joey Tomlinson went over in his first and only appearance of the night. With two minutes to go things were looking good but then from the kick-off we allowed Newport to go right through and score a converted try from 80 yards. It was criminal defending and would have been a cruel way to go out were it not for Dane Blacker still having the legs to sprint over the line.
Geraint Walsh was the main with the easy conversion and Cardiff Blues Barbarians Select 7s were the Singha Premiership 7s Welsh leg champions. As it was pointed out to me on Twitter, the previous two winners have gone on to have dreadful seasons, us in 2014 and Newport last year. However, the side we put out last night is so far from our Pro12 squad I would hope it doesn’t matter!
There were plenty of reasons to be positive besides the result as well with the young academy players performing well. Ben Thomas was particularly impressive to start the evening standing at first receiver, all bodes well for a future XVs career at outside-half. Meanwhile Dane Blacker has incredible pace for a scrum-half which I hope to see sniping form rucks soon.
Declan Williams and Jim Botham both seemed encouraging in the bits we saw of them, but we didn’t get a proper look at Ben Jones unfortunately. Cardiff RFC’s new signing James Beal also showed a fair bit of a pace and it will be interesting to see how he gets on playing on the wing for the Rags.
So the 7s side will reconvene in two weeks for the Singha Premiership 7 Grand Final at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry with the confidence of being Welsh champions. Whether Richard Hodges will stick with the same squad is yet to be seen but check back here in time for the Final to get all the team news. Come on Cardiff!!
Singha Premiership 7s Grand Final
Sunday 7th August – 14:00
Ricoh Arena, Coventry
Live on BT Sport
Tickets Available here
Cardiff Blues Supporter’s Club coach trip tickets here