It’s been a busy month of British and Irish Cup, Welsh Premiership and Foster’s Challenge Cup action since the last Cardiff Blues development pathway news with games to cover. The first half of the Premiership has come to an end, while the middle two fixtures of the cup pool stages have been played.
Cardiff Blues A
Richard Hodges’ side travelled to their Ulster A counterparts for the first game of the back-to-back BIC encounters. Combining 16 Cardiff Blues players with six Premiership players he gave BIC debuts to Ben Jones, Pele Cowley and Jim Botham while Kyle Evans and Gareth Thompson appeared for the first time from Merthyr and Cardiff RFC respectively.
Gareth Thompson, Kyle Evans, Harri Millard, Garyn Smith, Teri Gee, Ben Jones, Pele Cowley; Corey Domachowski, Liam Belcher, Dillon Lewis, Ben Murphy, Nick White, Hemi Barnes, Morgan Sieniawski, Cam Dolan
Replacements: Joe Tomlinson, Rhys Carre, Kieron Assiratti, Jim Botham, Dane Blacker, Cameron Lewis, Declan Williams
In an intensely close first half the teams could not be split as three Johnny McPhillips penalties gave the home side the slimmest of leads despite winger Kyle Evans’ try and Gareth Thompson’s conversion. However the big talking point of the half was Samoan international Pele Cowley getting sent-off thanks to two yellow cards just before the break.
After being picked out as the culprit from a number of team offences it appears the scrum-half had a bit too much to say to the referee as he left the field and was dismissed on his first appearance in a Cardiff jersey.
Despite this another Gareth Thompson kick did briefly give the visitors the lead, but it wasn’t to last as Ulster scored in the corner to steal the victory against the 14-men of Cardiff.
Hodges chose to make four changes for the return game the following week as Ethan Lewis returned to captain aside, being joined in the front row by Kieron Assiratti, while Jim Botham and Shane Lewis-Hughes were both selected in the back row. Pele Cowley retained his place as he did no receive any ban for the red card.
Gareth Thompson, Kyle Evans, Garyn Smith, Harri Millard, Teri Gee, Ben Jones, Pele Cowley; Corey Domachowski, Ethan Lewis (c), Kieron Assiratti, Hemi Barnes, Ben Murphy, Shane Lewis Hughes, Jim Botham, Cam Dolan
Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Nick White, Dane Blacker, Owen Lane, James Beal
With a full XV and home advantage courtesy of Sardis Road’s 3G pitch we got our noses ahead at the break thanks to tries from Gareth Thompson and Cam Dolan, as well as more accurate kicking from the boot of Thompson. Ulster were always in touch though as the scores were 17-13 as the teams went in, Johnny McPhillips again matching Cardiff off the tee.
The second half started in an equally fast and furious manner as Dolan turned provider for young fly-half Ben Jones to score, before Ulster hit back with a try of their own. However, unfortunately it seems dodgy referees are a pathway-wide issue this season as the man with the whistle again become centre stage.
Firstly a seemingly excellent Terri Gee finish to a flowing move was not awarded by the referee, with no Television Match Official to check. He did award a scrum from that though which leads into the second issue with the official. The Cardiff scrum absolutely decimated that of Ulster, winning four successive penalties and getting an away prop sin-binned. However, no penalty try was forthcoming and on the fifth scrum the penalty inexplicably went against us!
As if to add insult to injury Ulster then decided to go down the other end and score in the corner, snatching away what should have been an impressive victory for Cardiff. In the end it was two losses for the A side and as such ends hopes of qualifying for the knockout stages of the British and Irish Cup.
Nevertheless, 14 academy players saw professional level rugby over the course of the week, alongside five senior players getting valuable game time and the rest being Welsh Premiership lads gaining experience at the next level, and possibly being looked at for a move into the full-time game.
There are still 160 minutes worth of game time to be played over the next week as well, to provide further experience and game time for all, fixture details below, be great to get some good support out for the players on Saturday.
Saturday 14th January, Cardiff Blues A v Jersey, 15:00 kick-off, The Wern – Merthyr RFC
Saturday 21st January, London Scottish v Cardiff Blues A, 14:00 kick-off, Athletic Ground
It’s been a slightly disappointing few weeks on the whole for the Premiership sides in Cardiff Blues’ development pathway, however, it has actually been a somewhat decent time for the academy and senior players within those teams.
Starting at the heads of the valleys and Merthyr were well in the hunt for finishing top of the league at the halfway split with three games to go. Unfortunately though, two losses in three games meant that they fell just short.
A 19-23 loss to RGC kicked off the Christmas period with Terri Gee coming off the bench, before he started and scored a brace in a come back 42-3 victory over league whipping boys Bargoed.
This lead into the final game of the first half of the league against first place Aberavon in a winner takes all encounter. Gee was again in the XV, and scored his third try in as many games, but could not stop the Ironmen slipping to a 24-17 defeat, which actually resulted in falling to third behind Bedwas.
Further down the A470 and the festive period kicked off for Cardiff and Pontypridd in their annual derby, this year at the Arms Park. Corey Domachowski, Kieron Assiratti, Morgan Sieniawski all started for the Blue and Blacks, but they were beaten 19-23, in part thanks to a Dane Blacker try as he started for the Valley Commandos alongside Liam Belcher and Garyn Smith.
For Ponty it was a successful follow up with a home 31-22 win over Cross Keys where, in a unique occurrence, all of their points where scored by 18 year old half-backs Blacker and Ben Jones. The scrum-half made it three tries in three games for him with a brace, while Jones scored a try and kicked 16 points.
Despite a heavy 47-17 defeat away to RGC, where Declan Williams and Josh Novell came off the bench, the Sardis Road side finished 5th and qualified comfortably for the top half of the Premiership, leaving them something to play for up to May.
Cardiff RFC on the other hand, have much less left to play for. After the defeat to Pontypridd, the blue and blacks were faced with a huge game against Ebbw Vale, the only team able to knock them out of the all-important eighth place.
Corey Domachowski, Seb Davies, Morgan Sieniawski, Cam Dolan, Pele Cowley and Harri Millard all started, with Rhys Carre off the bench, but it wasn’t enough as indiscipline cost the side on the way to a 24-20 defeat at Eugene Cross Park.
There was still a little bit of hope for the Rags as they entertained Bedwas on the final day of he first half, with a win putting pressure on Ebbw, but despite a hat-trick from Cam Dolan, it was a home 23-28 defeat, and as it happened the Steelmen won anyway.
So, Cardiff finish in the loser’s half of the league but Pontypridd and Merthyr are still in the hunt for Welsh Premiership silverware. Fixtures for the second half of the season aren’t confirmed yet, but I will put them on Twitter when they are revealed for the three pathway clubs.
Foster’s Challenge Cup
There was also two rounds of the Challenge Cup while the British and Irish Cup was on just before Christmas, and the story there is very similar to that of the Welsh Premiership.
Merthyr and Pontypridd are both fairing well, with mirrored results of a win over Ebbw Vale and a loss to Bargoed seeing the Ironmen retain top spot in pool C, just ahead of their Valleys rivals.
Meanwhile pool D sees Cardiff really struggling, as back-to-back losses to Neath leave them stone dead bottom of the pool effectively no hope of qualification for the knockout rounds.
There’s two more rounds starting tonight and finishing next week, where the crescendo is an A470 showdown which is likely to decide the outcome of pool C.
Wednesday 11th January, Cardiff v Bridgend, Merthyr v Ebbw Vale, Pontypridd v Bargoed (All 19:15 kick-offs, except the Rags at 19:30)
Wednesday 18th January, Aberavon v Cardiff, Pontypridd v Merthyr (both 19:15 kick-offs)