It’s been a busy month of Welsh Premiership action since the last Cardiff Blues regional development pathway update, in which time the Cardiff, Merthyr and Pontypridd have played six games and find themselves just three games away from the mid-season table split, with the top eight being the promised land. With plenty of college action as well there’s a lot of rugby to catch up on.
Starting with high flying Merthyr who started this set of fixtures with an impressive 14-35 away win at Llanelli, before suffering a heavy 40-10 defeat at Bridgend. This though sparked a run of three consecutive bonus-point victories thanks to scorelines of 45-18 v Neath, 17-41 at Llandovery and 32-26 v Swansea. The streak was only ended last weekend with a 26-13 loss at Carmarthen.
Merthyr only benefit from two academy players usually anyway, and with Shane Lewis-Hughes involved in first team affairs at the Arms Park, and Terri Gee out through injury, they’ve not had any pathway support.
Gee did return on the weekend though to score a try away at Carmarthen and can hopefully put together a run of games to assist the Ironmen. They currently sit top of the Premiership and, barring a disaster of apocalyptic proportions, they will comfortably make the top eight before the split.
Moving down the table and we find Pontypridd currently sitting in 4th who, despite having an up-and-down run of form, are still looking pretty secure for a top eight spot and are actually not far off challenging at the top of the table.
They started with a 25-42 loss at home to Ebbw Vale in a re-arranged fixture but recovered to a 45-30 win over Neath. On the road there have been losses to Carmarthen and Llandovery, 37-3 and 32-26, respectively, but two wins in the last two weeks 22-11 over Aberavon and 37-13 against Bargoed have seen them solidly in the Championship half.
There’s been plenty of academy player involvement with six of the youngsters turning out for the Valley Commandos. Declan Williams has featured heavily at centre while Cameron Lewis has switched between the midfield and the wing, grabbing a try at Carmarthen. In the forwards Corrie Tarrant has made a few appearances when Liam Belcher isn’t around, the latter scoring in the wins over Neath and Bargoed, with Josh Novell getting plenty of minutes at lock.
Dane Blacker also scored against Bargoed after returning from first team duties in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, while senior Cardiff Blues squad members Dillon Lewis and Garyn Smith have made appearances in recent weeks as they continue their own development as academy graduates.
Finally we finish with Cardiff who have been the most successful of the three sides these last few weeks. One loss in six has seen them rise into 8th place, the last of the top half spots, and with two home games included in their final three pre-split fixtures there must be confidence of being included in that Championship half.
It was three close wins to start the set of fixtures with a 24-21 at home over Carmarthen and a 30-22 win over Bargoed sandwiching a 15-22 victory over then table-toppers Aberavon. A heavy 35-10 defeat away at RGC was a reality check for the side but they bounced back with two impressive bonus point wins, 38-14 at home to Cross Keys and most recently 14-28 away at Llanelli.
Like Pontypridd they have benefitted from a number of academy players as Morgan Sieniawski has been almost ever-present at blindside flanker with James Sheekey joining him occasionally in the back row. Rhys Carre and Kieron Assiratti have racked up plenty of minutes at prop while Harri Millard and Owen Lane have made fleeting appearances in the centres, Millard scoring in the win over Carmarthen.
Corey Domachowski and Ethan Lewis have made returns from injuries in the blue and black shirts over recent weeks, while US international Cam Dolan has played in each of the last two weeks and scored twice at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday.
All three sides take a break from Premiership action before the final three games of the first part of the season as the Foster’s Challenge Cup returns this week, fixtures are as follows;
Friday 23rd December
Cardiff v Pontypridd
Tuesday 27th December
Merthyr v RGC
The college league has now drawn to a close as the league element of the competition finished and two teams progressed to the finals to battle it out for silverware.
Starting with the secondary trophy competition, there was agony for Ysgol Glantaf who saw Newport High School win on the last day to pip them to top spot by a solitary point, before they lost out in the final by just three points, 22-25. There was a different kind of disappointment for Whitchurch High School though as a miserable campaign saw them finish just one place above bottom with a solitary win to their name.
Meanwhile in the primary cup competition there was little joy for Cowbridge Comprehensive who finished in sixth with only two wins during the league competition, while Cardiff and Vale College suffered a massively injury-hit season as they came fourth.
Once again the success story was Coleg y Cymoedd, as the reigning champions made the final once more to face a familiar foe in Coleg Sir Gar. Unfortunately there was a second loss in finals for the pathway sides as they went down 24-28 at CAP. Still, with CyC producing the vast number of Cardiff Blues academy players in recent years and CAVC getting stronger, the future looks bright.
College League Results
9th November: Cardiff & Vale 32-13 Coleg Gwent, Cowbridge Comp 9-29 Coleg y Cymoedd
Llandovery College 31-3 Whitchurch High, Ysgol Glantaf 23-5 Neath Port Talbot College
16th November: Cardiff & Vale 20-12 Pembs College, Coleg Gwent 24-86 Coleg y Cymoedd
Cowbridge Comp 17-28 Coleg Sir Gar, Whitchurch High 5-35 Neath Port Talbot College
Ysgol Glantaf 32-5 Coleg Llandrillo
23rd November: Coleg Sir Gar 29-7 Cardiff & Vale, Gower College P-P Cowbridge Comp
Bridgend College 3-46 Ysgol Glantaf, Newport High 38-18 Whitchurch High
30th November: Cardiff & Vale 20-17 Gower College, Coleg y Cymoedd 92-5 Pembs College
Whitchurch High 25-27 Coleg Llandrillo
7th December: Gower College 27-17 Cowbridge Comp
Trophy Final: Ysgol Glantaf 22-25 Newport High School
Cup Final: Coleg y Cymoedd 24-28 Coleg Sir Gar
British and Irish Cup
Coming up this weekend is the return of the A team competition alongside European action for the first team. Richard Hodges’ side head to Belfast on Friday night to play Ulster A, before a return fixture the following Saturday takes place at Pontypridd’s Sardis Road with a 14:30 kick-off.
After two losses in October the side will likely need two wins in the next week to stand a chance of qualifying from the pool, but as ever development is the most important aspect of the games and Hodges will likely stick with the majority of academy players who featured in the Anglo-Welsh games last month.
Due to injuries I wouldn’t expect to see many senior players involved, with the side more likely to be supplemented by Premiership players, but after more time together as a unit over the last few weeks I would certainly hope for some improvement. With no home game on the Saturday it’d be great to see a decent size crowd at Sardis Road, so get down and support the future of Cardiff Blues.
Friday 9th December: Ulster A v Cardiff Blues A, Eaton Park, 19:00
Saturday 17th December: Cardiff A v Ulster A, Sardis Road, 14:30