Another November series has come and gone and there’s been plenty Cardiff Blues involvement across the length and breadth of Europe throughout a packed month.
Overall we’ve seen ten players in action across the four weeks, as well as two unused members of squads and three training numbers, alongside a member of staff called up to part-time international duty. Read on to find out how they did….
Starting with the home country and Wales played four internationals during November. Australia were first up in the controversial out of IRB window game that stripped the Welsh professional clubs of their players for the previous week’s derbies and that week’s Pro12 fixtures.
Only two Cardiff Blues were named in the matchday squad, as Sam Warburton opted to travel to Treviso in a hunt for match fitness, with Alex Cuthbert starting on the wing and Gethin Jenkins at loosehead, captaining the side in Sam’s absence as he became the most capped front row forward of all time.
Unfortunately the Autumn series began dreadfully for Rob Howley’s men, going down 8-32 to the Wallabies with Gethin Jenkins putting in a typically solid performance, but Alex Cuthbert coming in for a fair bit of criticism. It was already tough for the winger who was picked despite plenty of opposition to his form, but he did little to help himself.
The week after it was a fair bit of change as Sam Warburton returned to the Wales set up, while Lloyd Williams and Gareth Anscombe were called up to the bench, and Cuthbert dropped, for the arrival of Joaquin Tuculet and his Argentinian side in Cardiff.
A somewhat improved performance awaited, with Howley dropping Jamie Roberts in favour of a more expansive game. Warburton played the full 80, adding some much need breakdown work alongside Gethin for his hour, as a 24-20 victory arrived without the unused substitutes of Cardiff’s first choice half-back pairing.
Williams and Anscombe got their chance for the visit of Japan in the third game though as a much-changed side took to the red jerseys. Alex Cuthbert was drafted back in, while Warburton retained his place, and props Rhys Gill and Scott Andrews left Kris Dacey on the bench in a 33-30 win.
Anscombe was the big attraction in this game, as he finally had a shot at 10 for Wales, and he threw a beautiful pass for the opening try by Dan Lydiate. However, a shocker of an interception try pass and a lack of cohesion with his outside backs detracted from a solid performance. Warburton was the saving grace in Cardiff terms with some beautiful handling getting him across the line.
So onto the Autumn finisher for Wales came around and another encounter with one of the big three, South Africa. Sam Warburton sat out with a further injury, while Lloyd Williams was an unused substitute, leaving just Gethin Jenkins as the Cardiff representative, but he didn’t let us down.
Albeit against a woeful Saffer side the Wales team came out victorious with a 27-13 scoreline, although it did little to paper over the cracks of a stuttering November. Much work lies ahead in the transition from Warrenball to attractive rugby, but the players are certainly there to make it happen.
Cardiff Blues attack coach Matt Sherratt was one man attempting to aid that transition as he worked part-time with the Wales setup throughout the month, and did well in an incredibly limited time space. I thought there were flashes of actual expansive play during the four games, a world away from crash ball running, but still miles to go.
Also aiding the Wales squad efforts during November were the tackle bag holders, I mean training players, who Cardiff provided in the shapes of Ellis Jenkins, Josh Turnbull, Tomos Williams, Cory Allen and Rhun Williams. A good experience for them all I’m sure, particularly the younger players (but much better time would’ve been spent at their club, that’s for another day though).
The land of Donald Trump were also in action during November, with Blaine Scully and Cam Dolan linking up with the side after they had played the New Zealand Maori outside the international window.
Scully played 160 minutes on the wing, with the second 80 coming as captain, while Dolan was only selected at lock for the second game, as America lost 23-10 to Romania in Bucharest and 20-17 to Tonga in San Sebastian, Spain.
Rey Lee-Lo had an equally tough time of November with Manu Samoa, seeing the South Sea Islanders go down 52-8 to France in Marseilles and 20-16 to Georgia in Tbilisi. On a personal level for him though, he did manage to score the only Samoa try of the game against France with an impressive finish.
Newly signed scrum-half Pele Cowley was also in the travelling squad for Samoa’s November but didn’t get any game time, as he was an unused substitute against both France and Georgia.