The third month of the season has come and gone already, as we now look forward to the festive season which seems to have come back around so quickly. This means though that the whole month of November is there to look back on, so let’s get cracking!
On The Pitch
Off the back of a tough home defeat to Llanelli at the end of October we went to Treviso on the first weekend in November hampered by the start of the Autumn Internationals. As ever with a Cardiff trip to Italy it wasn’t going to be easy as our recent record in Southern Europe is fairly atrocious, but we were boosted by Willis Halaholo’s arrival, at long last.
Fresh off the plane from New Zealand the centre bagged himself a try, as did fellow debutant Rhun Williams called up from the academy, and a man who’s debut was a long time ago now, Macauley Cook. 19 points from the boot of Steve Shingler secured the win despite some dodgy kicking from hand and disorganised defence leading to a tight 28-34 scoreline at full-time.
Treviso 28-34 Cardiff: https://cardiffbluesblog.com/2016/11/07/treviso-28-34-cardiff/
One week, and fourteen changes later, Cardiff were kicking off their Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign away at Exeter under the eye of Development Pathway Manager Richard Hodges. With an average age of 20, saying the team was inexperienced is somewhat an understatement, but a great chance for a number of academy, young professionals and semi-professionals to stake a claim for the first team.
With Jarrod Evans kicking a penalty and converting James Sheekey’s try all inside five minutes it seemed we were in dreamland, but after Exeter had run in five tries by half-time those hopes were shattered. With scrum-half Lewis Jones picking up a serious knee injury in training, and Evans going off early in the game with a nasty broken jaw, it left 18 year-old half-backs Dane Blacker and Ben Jones in charge.
In the circumstances they coped well and managed to guide Cardiff to three second half tries thanks to a brace from Rhun Williams, taking his try tally to three in two games, and Cardiff RFC’s James Beal adding to his prolific record this season. It wasn’t enough to stop Exeter’s incredibly dominant driving maul though, and the young side fell to a 62-25 defeat at Sandy Park.
Exeter 62-25 Cardiff: https://cardiffbluesblog.com/2016/11/15/exeter-62-25-cardiff/
Returning to the Arms Park the week after to play in round one of the Anglo-Welsh Cup (scheduling issues!) we welcomed Ospreys to our actual home for the first time in a few years thanks to Judgement Day. Following the young side’s previous hammering Richard Hodges recalled a few senior faces to steady the ship as Dan Fish, Cory Allen, Matthew Rees and Jarrad Hoeata all started.
However, when Ospreys had pushed us over the line inside five minutes it looked like a bleak repeat of the first game might have been on the cards. The team responded well though and 10 minutes later they were on the scoresheet thanks to an individual score from scrum-half Rhodri Davies, signed as injury cover from Llandovery.
The scores stayed tense at 7-7 until the 54th minute when Anton Peikrishvili was inexplicably sent-off after a scuffle with Rob McCusker, which we later found out was for a biting offence. From there the game was lost and Ospreys ran in four further tries, but the performance up to the red card at least gave reason for hope.
Cardiff 7-31 Ospreys: https://cardiffbluesblog.com/2016/11/21/cardiff-7-31-ospreys/
So after an overall disappointing two weeks of Anglo-Welsh action it was a welcome return to the Pro12 as the month’s on field action came to a chilly end on a Galway Fridat night. Danny Wilson returned to the head coach’s seat and was able to welcome back the majority of internationals to the side as the Autumn drew to a close.
With Connacht struggling this season despite being reigning champions and missing a few key players to Ireland duty I was confident as the game began, and even though the home side went ahead Tom James hit straight back to see us down just 10-7 at half-time.
The problem though was that, particularly in the second half, we made far too many handling errors, and and with the set piece also faltering badly, it spelled disaster. Despite defending better than we had in the last two months and looking dangerous initially in attacks, the mistakes meant chances were not converted and even resulted in Bundee Aki scoring the match winning try.
Connacht 18-7 Cardiff: https://cardiffbluesblog.com/2016/11/29/connacht-18-7-cardiff/
A tough month on the field all-in-all. The Anglo-Welsh Cup campaign is over before it’s really started, although it has more importance in terms of development than competitiveness. In the Pro12 though the loss to Connacht makes the three December games crucial in terms of staying in contention for a top six place.
Off The Pitch
It’s been a pretty busy month of new arrivals and as such, there’s only one place I can start. Nicky Robinson is back!! With injuries striking hard the last few weeks adequate cover was needed over the next couple of months and with the fly-half being available straight away, a previous player under Danny Wilson and Matt Sherratt at Bristol and of course a Cardiff legend, he was the obvious choice. All hail King Nicky!
He is joined in the half-back department by Pele Cowley, the Samoan international scrum-half coming in having toured with Manu over the Autumn. With eight caps to his name he has played for Counties Manukau and most recently Waikato, teaming up with Willis Halaholo. At just 23 he is still young but has the raw attributes to a good nine.
The other new arrival is a Georgian tighthead, Anton Peikrishvili. The former Ulster man made his debut at Exeter off the bench before starting at home to Ospreys, but unfortunately decided to bite Rob McCusker in the second half and is now banned for six weeks. How much longer he’ll be at the Arms Park remains to be seen.
Is it time for Peikrishvili to be shown the door?https://cardiffbluesblog.com/2016/11/30/biting-back/
We have also had Rhodri Davies spend some time with the Cardiff Blues this last month. The former Wales 7s, and current Llandovery, scrum-half came in as cover for the Anglo-Welsh Cup and scored a try at home to Ospreys before being an unused substitute away at Connacht, but with the arrival of Pele Cowley he has now returned to the Drovers with the memory of that individual try at CAP.
In the injury room this month it’s been pretty busy as a few players get ready to make themselves very comfortable. Joining Lewis Jones is firstly Jarrod Evans who suffered a very nasty broken jaw in Exeter and will be out until the end of January. Also there is Dan Fish who suffered a serious hamstring tear against Connacht and will likely be out for at least three months.
A slightly less serious injury has been suffered by Rhun Williams, who’s foot stress fracture will take a few weeks to heal, while Nick Williams continues to be sidelines with some kind of leg issue and as yet has no confirmed return date.
Finally, off the Arms Park field but on international pitches across Europe we have had a number of players involved in the Autumn Series of games. Blaine Scully and Cam Dolan have both appeared for the USA Eagles, Rey Lee-Lo played and scored for Samoa, while Gethin Jenkins, Sam Warburton, Lloyd Williams, Gareth Anscombe and Alex Cuthbert have all been involved for Wales at some point in November.
Player of the Month
A tough one this month as we’ve effectively had two different squads across the Anglo-Welsh Cup and Pro12. Willis Halaholo impressed me on his opening two appearances for the club, as did his new centre partner Rey Lee-Lo while Brad Thyer was solid at loosehead.
Youngster Shane Lewis-Hughes was impressive whilst playing out of position at blindside flanker but my player of the month for three tries in his first two senior professional games is Rhun Williams. The full-back/winger looked assured and just run like a professional rugby player should. Were it not for injury I’m sure he would have been considered for selection in Connacht and hopefully he can get back fit soon.