Cardiff RFC get the 2019/20 Indigo Group Premiership up and running on Friday night as Pontypridd are welcomed to the Arms Park for a 7.05pm kick-off.
It has been what has felt like a long summer for supporters, as well as players and coaches no doubt, especially with the disappointment of falling away in the last few weeks of last season when challenging Merthyr for the title seemed a real possibility.
However, there were still an overwhelming amount of positives from that campaign, not least winning a first Specsavers Cup since 1997, and topping the league at various times between January and April.
Over the off-season head coach Steve Law has worked hard to build on last season’s squad, retaining much of the core of the 2018/19 playing group, and adding some real quality in the form of James Ratti, Tom Habberfield and Sam Beard, as well as young talent like Ollie Drake, Lloyd Pike and Barney Nightingale.
On paper the playing squad is looking well balanced, with plenty of strength-in-depth and retaining of a number of players that should ensure attacking and defensive processes are maintained at the level they were last season.
Getting off to a strong start will really be key to whether the Blue and Blacks can go one better and leapfrog Merthyr though, after the horror of last year’s September which saw us win just one of the first four league games.
In that respect Pontypridd will be tough opponents, as they always are in this historic derby, but more than that Cardiff may well end up preventing ourselves getting out of the blocks quickly.
This is because, despite the squad being strong on paper, pre-season has been somewhat disjointed from a purely Blue and Blacks perspective.
While Cardiff have been playing shortened games against St Peters and Glamorgan Wanderers, before a full length game against Bedwas, members of the squad have been featuring for Cardiff Blues A in the Celtic Cup.
Thomas Davies, Evan Yardley, Ollie Drake, Callum Bradbury, James Ratti, Alex Everett, Zach O’Driscoll, Nathan Hudd, Morgan Allen, Tom Habberfield, Joe Scrivens, Gareth Thompson, Sam Beard, Barney Nightingale and Edd Howley have all been given game time against one or both of Leinster A and Ulster A.
Of those, Hudd and Habberfield have both picked up injuries that rule them out of Friday’s game, while some players are expected to be retained by Cardiff Blues A for upcoming games in the Celtic Cup.
It has led to a number of players not playing together as Cardiff RFC get their season underway, but it could work out in the Blue and Blacks’ favour if they can click on the night.
All the players named above have spent at least a week training as a professional, with all the skills development and strength and conditioning benefits associated with that, as well as playing in a higher level competition.
There have also been certain partnerships seeing game time together at that next level; Thomas Davies, Evan Yardley and Ollie Drake in the front row, James Ratti and Callum Bradbury at lock, and Gareth Thompson, Sam Beard and Barney Nightingale in the three-quarter line.
Now it’s time to slot those pieces into the team that have spent pre-season together, with the hope that the separate parts can form a well-functioning rugby side capable of getting the campaign up and running with a win on Friday.