Exactly 97 days after the 2015/16 season ended with a win in Edinburgh rugby has returned for the brand new year, and I’m more excited than ever! We begin the rigamoral of pre-season with a not exactly exotic trip to the shanty town of Newport and the delights of Dave Parade to take on our closest neighbours.
Danny Wilson has named an experimental side, lacking in internationals but made up for with interesting new partnerships. Only 11 of the 23 that travelled to Scotland in May are included with 15 players drafted into an extended pre-season squad. In that just one player, James Sheekey, will make his debut with Harri Millard set for his first start. Seb Davies, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Steven Shingler, Terri Gee and Rhun Williams could all debut from the bench.
Millard’s arrival sees Garyn Smith step inside to the 12 jersey for the first time at first-team level, while Blaine Scully gets a chance to impress from the wing. Lewis Jones and Jarrod Evans form an untested half-back pairing in an inexperienced three-quarter line. Up front the return of Salesi Ma’afu after a full pre-season is something to keep an eye on, while the familiar sights of second row pairing James Down and Jarrad Hoeata, and Macauley Cook with Josh Navidi at flanker, are in place to marshall young Sheekey at 8.
The expectation would be that Corey Domachowski, Ethan Lewis and Scott Andrews will form the front row for much, if not all, of the second half with the same story for Tomos Williams and Steve Shingler at half-back. Terri Gee, Rhun Williams, Cory Allen and Seb Davies will slot in at wing, full-back, centre and lock respectively, while Shane Lewis-Hughes and Cam Dolan can take the spare second row spot or move into the back row.
As ever with pre-season friendlies this amount of substitutes will no doubt affect the game’s flow and I’m sure the second half in particular will suffer, however everyone needs game time. You may ask ‘why not have more pre-season games?’, but with the season only ending in late June for the internationals and the risk of injury a big one, two games to get everyone some match sharpness is the generally accepted number across Northern Hemisphere club rugby.
There is still a balancing act between fitness and performance though, as pre-season may be more about game time but should not be forgotten as a dress rehearsal for the imminent season and a trial for starting places. After such a fantastic second half of last season that form certainly needs to be carried into September via pre-season.
A psychological boost is there for the taking after doing the double over Newport last season, a win on Friday night will again reduce the role that Rodney Parade plays in the away derby game. What we as fans, and I’m sure the coaches are looking for too, is players working hard to put themselves forward for selection in September, as well as functioning within the team. The result will come as a result of that, but it’s not the be all and end all.
So ahead of the first game of pre-season there’s much to look forward to, and a can’t wait for proper 15-a-side rugby to return. Come on Cardiff!!
Cardiff team v Newport: 15 Dan Fish; 14 Blaine Scully, 13 Harri Millard, 12 Garyn Smith, 11 Aled Summerhill;10 Jarrod Evans, 9 Lewis Jones; 1 Brad Thyer, 2 Matthew Rees (capt), 3 Salesi Ma’afu, 4 Jarrad Hoeata, 5 James Down, 6 Macauley Cook, 7 Josh Navidi, 8 James Sheekey.
Replacements: 16 Ethan Lewis, 17 Corey Domachowski, 18 Scott Andrews, 19 Seb Davies, 20 Cam Dolan, 21 Tomos Williams, 22 Steve Shingler, 23 Cory Allen, 24 Teri Gee, 25 Shane Lewis-Hughes, 26 Rhun Williams.
Kick-off: 19:30 at Rodney Parade, Newport
Tickets available here
Cardiff Blues Supporter’s Club travel available here