Cardiff Blues A got off to the worst possible start to the 2016/17 British and Irish Cup campaign thanks to two losses in as many weeks, only a losing bonus point in the opener bringing any glimpse of hope for Richard Hodges men.
A team of mainly academy players was named for the first game at home to London Scottish, with 11 of the youngsters in the matchday 23 alongside four younger members of the senior professional ranks and seven players from the Welsh Premiership sides in the region, with all three local clubs represented.
Cardiff A team vs London Scottish: Rhun Williams (Cardiff), Owen Lane (Cardiff), Aled Summerhill (Pontypridd), Declan Williams (Pontypridd), James Beal (Cardiff); Jarrod Evans (Cardiff), Lewis Jones (Cardiff) (C); James Howe (Merthyr), Liam Belcher (Pontypridd), Kieron Assiratti (Cardiff), Ben Murphy (Merthyr), Seb Davies (Cardiff), Shane Lewis Hughes (Merthyr), Morgan Sienawski (Cardiff), Hemi Barnes (Pontypridd)
Replacements: Joe Tomlinson (Cardiff), Brad Thyer (Pontypridd), Ben Leung (Cardiff), Luke Crocker (Cardiff), James Sheekey (Cardiff), Dane Blacker (Pontypridd), Ben Jones (Coleg y Cymoedd)
In a back and forth game it was Cardiff who seemed to have the better of the first half, going in 14-12 up at half-time thanks to a sniping try from scrum-half and captain Lewis Jones, and an opportunist score for Great Britain University 7s player James Beal.
Jarrod Evans converted both tries and added a third when he set up Aled Summerhill to score just after half-time, however two late Scottish tries gave the away side victory as a late try from replacement scrum-half Dane Blacker was disallowed by the referee.
For the second game it was a tough away trip to the Channel Islands and a visit to Jersey RFC. Hodges was forced into a few changes due to injury and senior squad call-ups, with Brad Thyer getting a first start since returning from injury, Cam Dolan receiving a run-out and young Ben Jones of Coleg y Cymoedd starting at outside half.
Cardiff A team vs Jersey: Rhun Williams (Cardiff), Owen Lane (Cardiff), Aled Summerhill (Pontypridd), Declan Williams (Pontypridd), Alex Webber (Pontypridd), Ben Jones (Coleg y Cymoedd), Mike Hale (Cardiff); Brad Thyer (Pontypridd), Liam Belcher (Pontypridd), Kieron Assirratti (Cardiff), Ben Murphy (Merthyr), Cameron Dolan (Cardiff), Shane Lewis-Hughes (Merthyr), Luke Crocker (Cardiff), James Sheekey (Cardiff)
Replacements: Joe Tomlinson (Cardiff), James Howe (Merthyr), Ben Leung (Cardiff), Hemi Barnes (Pontypridd), Tom Lucas (Cardiff), Callum Hall (Pontypridd), Cameron Lewis (Pontypridd)
The first half was a fairly tight affair, Jersey going 14-0 up early on but tries from academy centre/wing Owen Lane and first team back Aled Summerhill hauled Cardiff back into the game. A late try from the home side made the scores 21-12 at half-time with everything to play for.
However the second half did not go as planned. Two tries in the opening five minutes from Jersey knocked the stuffing out of Cardiff and the home side went on to make it a total of seven tries with seven conversions for a 49-12 full-time score leaving Richard Hodges side very much bottom of pool one.
The poor results being suffered by Cardiff A isn’t a problem only in the capital but around Wales as both Ospreys and Newport are winless in the BIC after the first two rounds. Similarly heavy scorelines have been suffered and Welsh clubs are bottom of three of the five pools drawing criticism of the inclusion of ‘Premiership Select XVs’ in the competition.
The issue though is that the criticism focuses on the wrong aspect of what is going wrong. The problems don’t stem from the PS sides having a lack of fans or club identity, but from the fact that they are trying to be too much in the middle ground between the Welsh Premiership sides and professional clubs. The time have come to make them full blown A sides run by the four Welsh pro clubs.
They need a full schedule of games stretching beyond the BIC and Anglo-Welsh Cup to become a fully functioning side in their own right. As far as I can see there’s two options for this; either request to join the English Premiership A league and return the BIC to Welsh Prem clubs, or introduce home and away games between the Welsh A teams plus the BIC and AW Cup.
By developing a proper step in the development pathway to fill the ever widening gap between Welsh Premiership and Pro12 level it can only aid young players by giving them a regular higher standard of rugby and the chance to play and train with each other as a squad, rather than spending Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays apart at either Cardiff or Pontypridd RFC.
Elsewhere around the development pathway there have been some games involving the Welsh Premiership teams during the month of October. Merthyr RFC have been the most successful with a convincing 26-50 win away at Newport being backed up by a 38-25 victory over reigning champions Ebbw Vale at The Wern. They are currently sitting 2nd in the table behind unbeaten Aberavon.
Further down the table in 6th, albeit with a game in hand, are Pontypridd who are starting to recover from some dodgy early season form brought on in part by an injury crisis. They followed up a narrow 13-15 win away at Bridgend by also putting some points on Newport in a 36-12 win at Sardis Road as academy members Corrie Tarrant and Dane Blacker came off the bench at hooker and scrum-half, respectively.
Onto Cardiff RFC who didn’t have such a successful Premiership period. First up Seb Davies started as the Rags went down 12-8 away at rivals Swansea in a close game at St Helens, before there was an even more agonising defeat to Neath at the Gnoll with the Welsh All Blacks winning 20-19, Morgan Sieniawski coming off the bench. These two defeats leave Cardiff down in 9th place after six games.
There was a win for Cardiff though as the Foster’s Challenge Cup whirred into life and they saw off Aberavon with a 25-24 victory, although there was a heavy 29-7 defeat at Bridgend in the second game. Both Pontypridd and Merthyr also win their first games with a 17-31 win at Ebbw Vale for the Valley Commandos, while the Ironmen secured a comfortable 7-38 victory away to Bargoed.
Unfortunately there was no chance to make it two wins from two for both sides as they faced each other in round two at The Wern. Despite a try from academy hooker Corrie Tarrant, Ponty were the unlucky side as Merthyr came out on top in a 36-15 win. Stan Thomas’ boys lead their group from the Sardis Road side as a result, while Cardiff lie third in pool D.
Away from senior rugby and into the WRU College League which has now begun the main part of it’s season. In the Cup competition both Coleg y Cymoedd and Cowbridge Comprehensive are helping to set an early season pace with two wins and a loss from their opening three games, while Cardiff and Vale College are further back with just one win but retaining a game in hand.
Meanwhile in the trophy competition there’s a similar story as Ysgol Glantaf are pushing at the top of the table with two wins and a loss while Whitchurch High are the team with just the one win and the game in hand. Still plenty of the season left to get some college success in the regional development area though.
Coleg Gwent 29-13 Cowbridge Comp, Coleg y Cymoedd 38-24 Gower College, Whitchurch High 13-22 Ysgol Glantaf
Coleg Sir Gar 20-5 Coleg y Cymoedd, Cowbridge Comp 11-8 Cardiff and Vale College, Bridgend College 24-25 Whitchurch High, Ysgol Glantaf 44-34 Llandovery College
Pembs College 19-32 Cowbridge Comp, Newport High 29-17 Ysgol Glantaf, Coleg y Cymoedd 38-22 Cardiff and Vale College
Wednesday 9th November
Cardiff and Vale College v Coleg Gwent
Cowbridge Comp v Coleg y Cymoedd
Llandovery College v Whitchurch High
Ysgol Glantaf v Neath Port Talbot College