There’s been plenty of goings on around the development pathway in the last few months, but largely in the background as rugby below the professional level gets pushed to the side by the Six Nations more than the Pro12.
However, there’s been progress in a fair few competitions around the region, with trophy chances for two sides and plenty of promise around the younger players, so let’s catch up.
British and Irish Cup
The B&I Cup finally drew to a close this month as Cardiff Blues A’s rearranged game away at London Scottish was played. Duane Goodfield took temporary charge with Richard Hodges on Wales U20 duty and named a well mixed side of young professionals, senior academy players and some of the best young players from the three premiership clubs.
Aled Summerhill, James Beal, Harri Millard, Garyn Smith, Ollie Smyth, Jarrod Evans, Pele Cowley; Tom Mably, Ethan Lewis (c), Ben Leung, Seb Davies, James Down, Joe Gaughan, Owen Jones, James Sheekey
Subs: Liam Belcher, Lewis Jones, Ben Sier, Jack Davies, Adam Hoskins, Declan Williams, Dafydd Smith
The games was a tale of two halves as Cardiff streaked away in the first period thanks to an opportunistic Aled Summerhill try and two close range efforts from Pele Cowley and Ben Leung, although Scottish hit back while James Beal was spending time in the sin bin.
Into the second period and the hosts really started to crank up the pressure until it got too much for Cardiff and they conceded two tries in the last 10 minutes to level the scores.With the clock ticking past 80 minutes the visitors mounted one last attack, and eventually Jarrod Evans kicked a penalty to win the game late on.
A positive end to another disappointing campaign results-wise, but yet more development for our young players and it’s really paying off when you look at the Wales U20 team having so many Cardiff Blues representatives and Corey Domachowski’s recent form.
The top tier of the community game in Wales has seen it’s first ever mid-season split this season, and it’s differing news for the three teams involved from the Cardiff Blues pathway, with some real contrasting fortunes.
Cardiff RFC are the real strugglers, with three straight losses at the end of the first phase of fixtures consigning them to the lower tier of the league, where they have gone on to lose their first four games and are currently stranded at the foot of the table.
Whether it’s uncertainty from off-field dealings, too much squad rotation or just downright poor defensive play/coaching that is costing the blue and blacks I don’t know, but it is certainly sad to see the team rooted to the bottom of the league. With three away games left, the outlook is not good for Duane Goodfield’s men.
In contrast, Merthyr RFC are enjoying a fine season. Two losses late on in the first set of fixtures cost them the title of winners of the first part of the league, but they still qualified comfortably for the top half.
They currently sit third in the split league, with a one-point opening loss to RGC being followed by heavy wins over Bedwas and Llandovery, scored a combined 115 points in total over the two games.
Pontypridd RFC have also joined Merthyr in avoiding the bottom half of the split, a run of four straight wins securing their position at the business end of the table before the split. This form has carried over into the second part of the season as three victories over Llandovery, Carmarthen and Ebbw Vale leaves them the undefeated league leaders.
WRU National Cup
The competition formerly known as the SWALEC started well for the three Premiership sides, with all three bypassing lower league opposition comfortably, although Pontypridd’s success was unfortunately over fellow pathway side Cardiff Met. Glamorgan Wanderers were also knocked out in the first round by Bedwas.
Beddau RFC made it to the second round courtesy of a bye, and pushed Ebbw Vale hard but were eventually beaten 3-7, while Cardiff were also knocked out by Championship side Pontypool to compound the shocking run of form for the blue and blacks.
Pontypridd and Merthyr both made it through though, and overcame tricky away trips in the quarter-finals, defeating Carmarthen and Ebbw Vale respectively. They’ve managed to avoid each other in the semi-final draw, meaning it could be an all-Cardiff Blues pathway Final.
Saturday 25th March – Pontypridd v Cross Keys (Aberavon RFC), Merthyr v RGC (Sardis Road) – 14:30
Foster’s Challenge Cup
Unfortunately Merthyr’s dream return to the Premiership was slightly scuppered in this development tournament as the treble was snatched away from them. In an excellent game at Aberavon’s Talbot Ground, they were edged out 37-31 by Carmarthen Quins, meaning they were knocked out at the semi-final stage.
It’s been a busy few months for the youth teams, starting with the U16s who had the North and South sides competing around the country before playing a inter-regional game at Merthyr’s Wern. The North edged it 20-17, and after that the coaches named the combined U16 squad that will play in the regional tournament in mid-April.
Cardiff Blues U16 Combined Squad: Mathew Iles, Iestyn Haskins, Garyn Phillips, Rhys Lewis, Jake O’Shea, Aneurin James, Joel Coughlin, Mitchell Barnard, Morgan Davies, Teddy Williams, Emyr Jones, Kurtis Hackman, Callum Hanley, Lloyd Gregory, Ieuan Pring, Reuben Williams, Craig Miller, Aron Chuchill, Kieran Gough, Lloyd Smith, Ioan Lloyd, Jorge Lucey, Lloyd Wilkins, Ioan Evans, Alex Kinsey, Louis Zammit Rees, Will Clapham, Max Lane, Dafydd Thomas, Ieuan Chedzoy, Macauley Coombes, Pat Thomas
The U18s had a mixed time of things in their age grade tournament, beating Scarlets first up, but going down to Newport and Ospreys to finish third in the table, before beating Scarlets again in the third place play-off. On the back of that three of our U18s, namely Alun Lawrence, Joe Miles and Ben Thomas were named in the Wales age grade squad for the test match against France. Well done all three!