Cardiff Blues brought their pre-season campaign to a close last weekend with defeat away to Exeter Chiefs after falling marginally short against Leicester Tigers the Saturday before.
There were plenty of positives and negatives to discuss after the 180 minutes of action, with our attacking game looking strong and young players impressing, but some defensive and set piece weaknesses were exposed and will need looking at.
The main talking point which has emerged subsequently though, is where were all our first teamers?
It has become more obvious that we were missing a lot of key players after seeing the teams named by Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons this weekend, which were effectively first XVs including a lot of key players and Team Wales internationals.
As such, I’ve done some digging to find out where those players who did not feature in pre-season were, and when we can expect them back in blue.
Gethin Jenkins – Still hampered by the calf injury that saw him miss out on the Challenge Cup Final in Bilbao, Melon isn’t far from full fitness and should be back sooner rather than later.
Matthew Rees – Still recovering from the ACL reconstruction that ended his season prematurely last year. Would only expect Smiler to be back at the end of September at the earliest.
Kris Dacey – Being eased back in to action after overcoming the back injury that the hooker played through at the end of last season. We can expect to see Dacey’s flowing locks in action during the early rounds of the Pro14.
Anton Peikrishvili – The Georgian was given extra time off after featuring for Los Lelos over the summer. Wouldn’t be a huge surprise if the tighthead left for pastures new if an offer comes in of a medical joker in France.
Macauley Cook – It was unclear why the flanker/lock was not involved in either pre-season friendly, but the 26-year-old is expected to play for Cardiff Blues A this weekend and will be fit for the start of the Pro14 season.
Josh Navidi – The breakout star in Welsh rugby last year was still recovering from the shoulder injury picked up in Bilbao when pre-season started this summer. Only returned to full training on Monday, so wouldn’t expect him to be back until mid-September at the earliest.
Ellis Jenkins – Newly appointed Cardiff Blues captain Jenkins returned late to pre-season training after co-captaining Wales over the summer, but will be ready for action in the first few weeks of the season.
Samu Manoa – Highly anticipated new signing Manoa was given additional time off after featuring for the USA Eagles this summer and due to the unexpected nature of his move from France to Wales. He arrive in Cardiff in the next week.
Nick Williams – The big number eight has trained fully this pre-season but was given time off that coincided with the friendlies to attend his brother, Waikato Chiefs and Samoa back, Tim Nanai-Williams’ wedding. He is now back in Cardiff and will be available for selection.
Sion Bennett – The back-rower picked up a nasty shoulder injury last season, but was thought to have got over it in time for pre-season. He wasn’t involved in either friendly, but is fit and available for selection.
Tomos Williams – Another Wales tourist who returned late but will be available early in the season.
Gareth Anscombe – Again, another Wales tourist. He was fully involved with the warm-up against Exeter though, so will be available early in the season as well.
Rey Lee-Lo – The centre was given extended time off after spending the summer with the Samoan national team as they qualified for the World Cup. Took a head knock while on duty with them, but is back and available for selection.
Jack Roberts – Last summer’s signing from Leicester endured a torrid first season with injury and that looks set to head into his second year at the Arms Park with the centre out until at least October.
Blaine Scully – Captain America underwent foot surgery after a successful summer with the USA Eagles. We can expect to see him flying down the wing again at the end of September.
The worry for Cardiff Blues is that with a long list of players, particularly key first-teamers, like this without game time will then lead to us heading into the Guinness Pro14 season opener against Leinster somewhat under-cooked.
Perhaps this fear has been exacerbated by being the only Welsh team not playing this weekend and putting out a team close to the first XV, but after last season you can’t blame supporters for being concerned.
Hopefully the extra few weeks of pre-season training and the gap between our last pre-season friendly and the first league game will stand us in good stead, but the proof will be in the pudding at the Arms Park next Friday.