On-field pre-season action started and finished for Cardiff Blues on Saturday as John Mulvihill’s men completed a seven try rout of Bedford Blues.
Although many first-teamers had played for Cardiff Blues A against Dragons A in the Celtic Cup the week before, this was the only chance to see the full squad in action, with the likes of Dmitri Arhip, Nick Williams and Willis Halaholo unable to play in thje development competition.
So what did we learn at Goldington Road? Well the first thing is that the top of the Championship is a long way off the quality of the Pro14. I expected us to be fairly dominant, but a 0-29 half-time scoreline was still a surprise, and it would have been more had Jason Tovey been wearing his kicking boots.
That means that the result should be taken with a fair old pinch of salt, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Cardiff Blues were very good in most aspects of the game, particularly before the break.
It starts with the physical fitness of the players, which was very good. John Mulvihill had spoken previously about there being no fat-club and guys were returning to break personal bests in testing, and he wasn’t lying.
Without wishing to turn this rugby blog into some sort of homoerotic fan-fiction, it was noticeable that the players looked in good nick as they headed out to warm-up, and that translated on to the field, particularly in defence where we looked sharp and physical.
There were successful turnovers from Nick Williams and Seb Davies teaming up to hold a ball carrier up, while a dominant tackle from Willis Halaholo allowed Shane Lewis-Hughes to get over the ball well, as Bedford only troubled our 22 once and it resulted in a Ioan Davies interception and try for Lewis Jones.
Attack-wise we looked structured going forward which paid off against a poor scramble defence from the home side, while the scrum was particularly dominant, pushing Bedford off their own ball in order for Alun Lawrence to score a try at one point.
There were successful partnerships being built between Lewis-Hughes and Will Boyde at flanker, and Halaholo and Garyn Smith in midfield, with the latter possibly nailing down the 13 jersey early in the season ahead of Harri Millard.
Individually Seb Davies looked in good form, getting around the park well and bringing a physical edge to the defence, while Lewis Jones was tidy from scrum-half once again, and Ioan Davies put in an assured performance on the wing that belied the fact that he was the only member of the starting XV without Pro14 experience.
There were work-ons, as there always are, but unfortunately for Cardiff Blues they are both work-ons that have been lingering for some time now.
Just before half-time the scrum pressure resulted in Bedford going down to 14-men, but we could not convert from inside the 22, an issue that has been impacting our attacking play since before the arrival of John Mulvihill.
Then the other problem is the lineout which functioned better, it couldn’t really go much worse than last season, but still coughed up ball in the second half and needs to improve before the season gets properly going such is its importance to our attacking play.
The team now head to Cape Town for a training camp ahead of travelling to Port Elizabeth to face Southern Kings in the first round of the Pro14 a week on Saturday, where hopefully they can brush up on those two aspects of their game.
Overall positive signs from the pre-season trip to Bedford, but the proof will be in the pudding at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. Getting off to a good start may well make or break our campaign. Here’s hoping it’s a win to push us towards the play-offs.