There will be three new opponents for the Cardiff Blues Premiership select side next season, after being drawn against Bristol, Doncaster Knights and Leinster A in the 2017/18 pool stage.
The team, generally made up of Cardiff Blues academy players supplemented by the best from Cardiff, Pontypridd and Merthyr’s Premiership sides, will be looking to improve on their record of just two wins and a draw since the inception of PS sides in 2015.
With no Welsh side having made it out of the pool stages in that time there is some bragging rights to be won, but it’s important to remember that results are not the be all and end all at this development level.
In Cardiff we have seen the excellent work the PS side has done bridging the gap between the Welsh Premiership and Pro12, offering Corey Domachowski, Brad Thyer, Ethan Lewis, Dillon Lewis, Kieron Assiratti, Seb Davies, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Tomos Williams and Jarrod Evans the chance to play at a professional level before breaking into the first team.
This season’s tournament will offer tough challenges again, with all three pool opponents having recent final experience. Doncaster were runners-up in 2015, while Bristol were victorious in 2011, and Leinster won back-to-back cups in 2013 and 2014.
Although none of them have faced the Cardiff Blues PS, they have played teams within the region before the advent of the development side. Doncaster came up against one of Cardiff and Pontypridd each season between 2009 and 2012, while Ponty were drawn in the same pool as Leinster in 12/13, and Bristol in 14/15.
How the Blues side will be run this season remains to be seen, as the team has previously been under the management of Academy Manager Richard Hodges. However, with Clive Jones set to come in from Coleg y Cymoedd under the job title ‘Head of Development’, it could well be that the Rhondda man assumes control of the PS.
Whoever is in charge will then have to review the make-up of the side, trying to retain the all important development brief, while trying to translate encouraging performances into results. Whether that means lessening the use of Premiership part-time players, or setting up a specified PS squad, remains to be seen.
Cardiff Blues Premiership Select pool fixtures 2017/18 (exact dates and locations tbc);
Round 1: 13-15 October 2017
Cardiff Blues Select v Bristol Rugby
Round 2: 20-22 October 2017
Leinster A v Cardiff Blues Select
Round 3: 8-10 December 2017
Doncaster Knights v Cardiff Blues Select
Round 4: 15-17 December 2017
Cardiff Blues Select v Doncaster Knights
Round 5: 12-14 January 2018
Cardiff Blues Select v Leinster A
Round 6: 29 January 2018
Bristol Rugby v Cardiff Blues Select