Saturday saw the first game of the season for Cardiff Blues A, as they welcomed their Scarlets counterparts to Cardiff Metropolitan University’s Cyncoed campus for a pre-season friendly.
With the newly formed Celtic Cup development competition starting a week on Friday, it was an opportunity for both sides to have a look at the players in their respective squads, as well as getting the coaching staff used to working together and offer a feel for the standards the games would be played at.
It was clearly of interest, with the full Scarlets first team coaching staff spectating, as well as John Mulvihill, Richard Holland and Peter Thomas of the Cardiff Blues. They were joined by a decent crowd of supporters, although the one day notice given by the clubs involved is an indicator of how important the attendance is.
What everyone was there to see was how the stars of tomorrow would fare in a competitive, and crucially, professional environment, as the Welsh and Irish Rugby Unions try to recreate the intensity of the Pro14 as the semi-professional game falls further behind.
The good news is that, if Saturday is anything to go by, they will not be disappointed.
The game itself was a thoroughly entertaining affair, particularly in the first half before replacements got in the way after half-time, as is the way with pre-season friendlies, but kept spectators gripped throughout.
Cardiff Blues dominated the opening exchanges, experiencing the vast majority of possession and territory, largely thanks to a very impressive scrum. Unfortunately the backs could not quite click early on, so it was left to captain Alun Lawrence to dot down at the back of a set piece to open the scoring.
Up against an organised Scarlets defence the final pass just wasn’t there for the hosts as Morgan Griffiths, Tom James and Dane Blacker could all have scored on another day, but eventually scrum-half Blacker did get over with a snipe from close range, and when Cam Lewis finished a counter attack for a third try, the game seemed over as a contest.
However, disaster struck for Cardiff Blues when Kieron Assiratti went off with a knock, the scrum dominance was lost and Scarlets grew in confidence. As quickly as the hosts were 19-0 up, half-time was whistled for with the score at 19-19.
Richie Rees and T Rhys Thomas’ men were again impressive in their attacking as the second half got underway, and Dane Blacker actually went under the posts, but the score was ruled out as the final pass once again was hard to come by.
The frustration of the attacking play was seemingly taken out on the defensive side of the game, as Cardiff Blues were continually penalised as the second half wore on. Between that and the replacements, the game got stuck in a stop-start rut.
Eventually Scarlets fly-half Ethan Davies kicked one of the penalties from in front of the posts, and then some extended pressure from the visitors allowed former Cardiff Blues academy prospect Joe Miles to score in the corner and put the game beyond doubt.
Alun Lawrence crossed for a second try late on as the home side showed some heart to keep plugging away, and although the final score was a 24-29 loss, the coaches will be pleased with the performance as a first run-out.
In attack particularly there were huge positives to be taken, with the midfield quartet of Blacker, Jones, Lewis and Millard functioning very well, and if that final pass can be even 50% more successful it would have been a comfortable Cardiff Blues win on Saturday.
The starting front row of Carre, Belcher and Assiratti were also hugely impressive, while the effect of first teamers Down, Cook, James and Fish was clear to see, and keeping that experience within the squad in some form will be crucial to the side’s competitiveness and the development of the young players.
As a whole the game offered an exciting insight into what the Celtic Cup can offer in terms of providing a development platform of greater quality than has been seen before, as well as an entertaining game for any supporters who choose to head along.
Encouraging signs all round as Cardiff Blues A head into their first Celtic Cup fixture against Dragons A at Rodney Parade on Friday 7th September.
Celtic Cup Fixtures
Friday 7th September – Dragons v Cardiff Blues – 19:15 – Rodney Parade
Saturday 15th September – Leinster v Cardiff Blues – 14:00 – Energia Park
Saturday 22nd September – Cardiff Blues v Ulster – 14:30 – Arms Park
Saturday 29th September – Cardiff Blues v Munster – 14:00 – Arms Park
Saturday 6th October – Connacht v Cardiff Blues – tbc – Sportsground
October 12/13/14 – Cardiff Blues v Ospreys – tbc – tbc