Cardiff Blues A coaches Gethin Jenkins and T Rhys Thomas have named their first matchday squad of the season ahead of the Celtic Cup getting underway.
Reigning champions Leinster A are the visitors to the Arms Park on Saturday, for a 14:30 kick-off, and are expected to bring a side of younger academy players and the best of their local All Ireland League clubs with the remaining first team and senior academy players heading to Canada for a friendly against the national team.
As a result of this, and the fact that the game is relatively early in a pre-season that has been lengthened by the delayed start of the Guinness Pro14, Cardiff Blues A have selected a side of mostly Indigo Group Premiership players.
Many of these players may not be known to supporters who don’t follow the Premiership, so as a result I’ve gone through the squad and put together some background on each of the 25 men selected.
- Ioan Davies (Cardiff Blues Academy)
An exciting prospect, the full-back earned rave reviews for his Wales U20 performances during his final year of availability at that level last season, with comparisons being drawn to Leigh Halfpenny, and not just because of his headgear.
He also scored two tries in 10 games for Cardiff RFC last season, with many tipping him to become a first team player at the Arms Park inside the next two years.
- Edd Howley (Cardiff RFC)
Former Ospreys academy member Howley was a revelation after arriving at the Arms Park following the financial troubles at Neath last November, becoming a key member of the WRU National Cup winning squad.
The 23-year-old finished as top try scorer, despite his late arrival to the squad, with 19 tries in 22 games, playing predominantly at full-back but comfortable on the wing as well.
- Alex Knott (Pontypridd)
A former Caerphilly Youth player, Knott has earned rave reviews for his performances at Sardis Road last season, having been picked up from then Championship side Nelson RFC last summer.
At 5ft8 and just under 90kg, the 25-year-old is a compact but powerful centre who has a knack for picking the perfect angles, and a turn of pace to exploit a gap in any defence.
- Sam Beard (Cardiff RFC)
Despite being a new signing this summer for the Blue and Blacks, Beard may well be a familiar face to supporters having played 32 times in all competitions for the Dragons between 2016 and 2018.
Before that the 29-year-old spent two-and-a-half years with Edinburgh, and most recently returned to his home of New Zealand to play for Canterbury in last season’s Mitre10 Cup. He will co-captain the side this weekend.
- Dale Stuckey (Pontypridd)
Another back at Sardis Road who is highly spoken of, Stuckey came through the ranks at local side Ynysybwl before switching to Pontypridd and also being involved in the Wales Sevens squad back in 2014.
Nearing 100 appearances for the Valley Commandos, the 27-year-old is a natural finisher and was name Pontypridd’s Player of the Year for the 2017/18 campaign.
- Joseph Scrivens (Cardiff RFC)
Another former Ospreys academy player, Scrivens is also a new signing at the Arms Park this summer having joined from Bedwas where he scored 230 points in 31 games last season.
Before that the 24-year-old was with Bridgend and also featured for the Ospreys Premiership Select XV in the British and Irish Cup.
- Tom Habberfield (Cardiff RFC)
Finishing off what could be a brand new Cardiff RFC 9, 10, 12 combo for this season, Habberfield starts having been let go by the Ospreys over the summer to the surprise of many of their supporters.
The 27-year-old is an experienced player, with 137 appearances in all competitions, and will co-captain the side as well as bringing an air of calm with his kicking game, but with the ability to make an open field break, having also been utilised as a winger on occasion.
- Thomas Davies (Cardiff RFC)
The loosehead prop is a Cardiff Blues academy graduate and made 46 appearances in all competitions between 2012 and 2016 before moving on to the Dragons where he played 34 tires in two seasons.
He returned to the Arms Park with Cardiff RFC last summer, becoming first choice in the number one jersey straight away and impressed with his scrummaging, but will need to show off more work around the field to return to the top level.
- Evan Yardley (Cardiff RFC)
A new face up front this season, the hooker is yet another former Ospreys academy player as a Bridgend native, earning Wales U18 honours on his way through the ranks.
The 25-year-old has now returned to South Wales after three seasons with RGC where he captained the first time and won their Player of the Year award at the end of the 2017/18 campaign.
- Will Davies-King (Cardiff Blues Academy)
Hailing from Chepstow the prop was first picked up playing for Cardiff Met RFC, featuring for Cardiff RFC and Pontypridd, and earning Wales U20 honours, before signing with Cardiff Blues full-time.
At 6ft3 and pushing 130kg, the 21-year-old is a big and powerful man, especially in the scrum where his technique has noticeably improved over the last 18 months, but now needs to show professional level awareness beyond the set piece.
- James Ratti (Cardiff RFC)
Yet another former Ospreys youngster, former Wales U20 cap Ratti signed with the Blue and Blacks this summer after his release from the West Wales side.
The 21-year-old has trained full-time with Cardiff Blues since June, with a close eye being kept on his development and whether he can step up to help a problem position for the first team.
- Callum Bradbury (Cardiff RFC)
In a similar position to his second row partner Ratti, Bradbury was technically released by the Cardiff Blues Academy at the end of last season, but signed with Cardiff RFC and has trained full-time since June.
A different type of player to the more powerful presence Ratti is hoped to be, the 21-year-old is more in the mould of Rory Thornton as a set piece specialist, but can hopefully show his worth in open play as well.
- Cai Devine (Wales 7s)
A number of centrally contracted Wales 7s players have joined regional A sides over the next few weeks in a bid to break-up their even longer pre-season, with the first HSBC World Sevens Series event not until December.
The 21-year-old also played for Cardiff Blues A last year and is a highly mobile lock/blindside flanker, as well as a good lineout option, but at under 100kg will not add much weight or physicality to an already light looking group of loose forwards.
- Zach O’Driscoll (Cardiff RFC)
Having come through at Llanharan, the flanker has spent most of his career to date at Bridgend Ravens where he became a crowd favourite, before switching to Cardiff RFC last summer.
34 appearances in all competitions made him almost ever present for the Blue and Blacks, and he finished the season as one of the top tacklers in the Premiership, his physicality belying his slightly smaller stature.
- Tim Grey (Cardiff Blues)
The RGC back-rower has been picked up on a short-term contract by Cardiff Blues for the duration of the Celtic Cup campaign.
Born in Yorkshire but raised in Llandudno, the 23-year-old has played across the back row for the North Walians, and was named in the Wales U20 squad for the 2016 U20 Six Nations.
- Joey Tomlinson (Cardiff RFC)
A slightly confusing one as the hooker has been announced as leaving the Blue and Blacks, but not moving to Canada until next month he has been drafted into the Cardiff Blues A squad.
The 26-year-old was touted by many as having the potential to step up a level after some superb performances as captain of Cardiff RFC last season, with his ball carrying and general work rate catching the eye.
- Huw Owen (Pontypridd)
The 25-year-old started out at Kenfig Hill RFC before playing for Cardiff Uni RFC during his time as a student, and then travelling to New Zealand where he played club rugby.
Since returning to Wales he has spent two season with Pontypridd, developing a reputation as a strong scrummaging loosehead, working hard under last season’s scrum coach at Sardis Road, Matthew Rees.
- Ollie Drake (Cardiff RFC)
A new signing at the Arms Park, the tighthead hails from Penarth originally but has spent the last three years playing for Pontypool RFC, where he has won the Championship three times.
The 23-year-old was a fan favourite at Pooler, and is believed to be a good scrummager at that level, but is completely untested beyond that.
- Sean Moore (Pontypridd)
The second row experienced a rapid rise during the 2016/17 season, which he started at Mountain Ash but finished at Pontypridd with Wales U20 honours to his name.
He now has over 50 appearances for the Sardis Road outfit, and at 6ft4 and 115kg, is one to keep an eye on after developing into a physical lock at Premiership level.
- Alex Everett (Cardiff RFC)
Not much is known about the back-rower who has signed for the Blue and Blacks having spent the last few years with Cardiff Uni RFC, helping them into the BUCS Super Rugby competition and to stay there.
- Morgan Allen (Cardiff RFC)
A slight surprise to see the big number eight involved, after stating last season he was happy at the semi-professional level, but Allen still has that professional quality to make the step up.
The 29-year-old was in fine form for the Blue and Blacks last season, with 15 tries in 30 games, and was the key ball carrier with some storming runs setting up dangerous attacks, as well as pushing Cardiff over the try line from close range.
- Jamie Hill (Cardiff Blues Academy)
The scrum-half is making his return to action having undergone ankle surgery following an injury picked up playing for Wales U20 away in Italy back in February.
Highly thought of to such an extent that Cardiff Blues were prepared to let Dane Blacker go, the 20-year-old appears to have the basic skills required to play nine down to a tee, now only requiring the game management experience that minutes on the field can offer.
- Ben Jones (Pontypridd)
A returning figure having been released by the Cardiff Blues Academy, the fly-half has signed with Pontypridd ahead of the new season getting underway.
The 21-year-old was a key Wales U20 figure for two years, winning the Grand Slam with the side, and is a superb attacking threat, but will need to show an ability to control the game from first receiver if he is to return to the top level.
- Barney Nightingale (Cardiff RFC)
Signed from Bargoed this summer, the centre is a former Wales U20 cap and Dragons Academy player, and was thought of highly there only to be released in 2018.
The 22-year-old is a hard running ball carrier who will no doubt bring an edge to the Cardiff RFC and Cardiff Blues A midfield.
- Daf Smith (Wales 7s)
The second of our Wales 7s squad players, Smith came through the Cardiff Blues Academy before joining the national setup for the short-sided game.
Comfortable on the wing as well as centre, he is an elusive runner and can read the game well defensively, but has played little 15s in recent years.