Cardiff Blues A head into the second round of Celtic Cup action this weekend as they travel to Malone RFC in Belfast to face Ulster A.
The competition did not get off to the best of starts for the charges of Gethin Jenkins and T Rhys Thomas last weekend, with a 28-47 opening day loss at the hands of Leinster A at the Arms Park.
However, a drawn 28-28 second half was cause for optimism as four tries came from Barney Nightingale, Edd Howley and a Cameron Lewis brace, with the attack and set piece beginning to click.
Ulster, on the other hand, came away with an impressive win in round one, beating last year’s losing finalists Scarlets A with a 32-35 scoreline at Llandovery RFC.
Head coaches Kieran Campbell and Willie Anderson have largely stuck with the same starting XV, making just three changes from the team which began the game last weekend.
Ross Adair comes in for Ben Power in midfield, with Hayden Hyde switching to inside centre to accommodate the change, while up front Tom Stewart replaces Zack McCall at hooker and Matthew Dalton is in for JJ McKee in the second row.
Back rower David McCann takes over the captaincy from McCall.
Ulster A: Conor Rankin, Ethan McIlroy, Ross Adair, Hayden Hyde, Graham Curtis, Bruce Houston, Nathan Doak; Callum Reid, Tom Stewart, Peter Cooper, Matthew Dalton, Jack Regan, Joe Dunleavy, David McCann (c), Azur Allison
Replacements: Claytan Milligan, Paul Mullen, Jonny Blair, JJ McKee, Matthew Agnew, Aaron Hall, Lewis Finlay, Greg Hutley
Cardiff Blues, on the other hand, have made eight changes to their team, as Jenkins and Thomas introduce some more Academy faces, and take the opportunity to look at some different Indigo Group Premiership talents.
Huw Owen swaps places with Thomas Davies at loosehead, while an all-new back row sees Pontypridd’s Sean Moore wear number six, with Cardiff RFC duo Nathan Hudd and Morgan Allen on the openside and at number eight, respectively.
In the backs, Academy scrum-half Jamie Hill and Cardiff RFC fly-half Gareth Thompson form a new half-back partnership, while another Blue and Black, Barney Nightingale, is rewarded for a try scoring cameo off the bench with a start.
Sam Beard solely captains the team this week, with Wales 7’s Dafydd Smith the only change in the back three, starting on the wing.
Tighthead Ben Warren and fly-half Rhys Davies from the Cardiff Blues Academy are named on the bench, as are Merthyr’s Paddy McBride and James Soanes as lock and scrum-half cover, respectively.
Cardiff Blues A: Ioan Davies, Dafydd Smith, Barney Nightingale, Sam Beard (c), Dale Stuckey, Gareth Thompson, Jamie Hill; Huw Owen, Evan Yardley, Will Davies-King, James Ratti, Callum Bradbury, Sean Moore, Nathan Hudd, Morgan Allen
Replacements: Cameron Lewis, Thomas Davies, Ben Warren, Paddy McBride, Alex Everett, James Soanes, Rhys Davies, Alex Knott
Plenty of changes but a largely settled tight five will hopefully be able to hit the ground running, as well as some familiar combinations from Premiership level elsewhere.
With the additional quality of the extra Academy players involved, hopefully Cardiff Blues can put up a good fight in Belfast, and make the Ulster side work hard.
As some familiar first team faces prepare to take the field in next week’s game against Dragons A, this may well be the last chance for some of the semi-professional players to make their mark at this level.
Hopefully they can take it and bring some positivity back to Cardiff.