Cardiff Blues A make the last trip of their Celtic Cup campaign this evening as they travel to Cork to take on Munster A at Irish Independent Park.
It follows a disappointing start to what is technically the third phase of our tournament last week when Gethin Jenkins and T Rhys Thomas’ side were beaten 29-5 by Ospreys Development at Bridgend’s Brewery Field last week.
The first phase had seen the team mix a number of Indigo Group Premiership stars with Cardiff Blues Academy players, resulting in losses to Leinster A and Ulster A, before what was close to a first team beat Dragons A in what was effectively a pre-season friendly.
This current phase has seen Cardiff Blues U18s and a few Academy players team up with Championship and BUCS Super Rugby players in order to give them exposure at a senior professional level.
Munster are in a similar position in terms of mixing Academy players with some from local All Ireland League sides, but have not tasted any real success with only a draw against Ospreys in round one stopping them from losing every game.
Most recently they fell away to Connacht Eagles last weekend, but a 37-28 final score was cause for optimism against a side pushing at the top of the Celtic Cup table and they are further boosted by the addition of Ireland U20 Grand Slam winner Craig Casey to captain the side from scrum-half.
Munster A: Jack Crowley, Rob Hedderman, Harry O’Riordan, Jack Delaney, Louis Bruce, Ben Healy,Craig Casey (c); Corrie Barrett, Scott Buckley, James Kendrick, Cian Hurley, Paddy Kelly, DavidHyland, John Hodnett, Luke Clohessy
Replacements: Diarmuid Barron, Luke Masters, Dylan Murphy, Thomas Ahern, Daniel Okeke, Bailey Faloon, Charlie O’Doherty, Jamie Shanahan
Jenkins and Thomas are able to welcome back three players who were involved with Cardiff Blues’ pre-season friendly against Bedford Blues last week as Ben Murphy, Alun Lawrence and Ioan Davies are included in the starting XV.
To facilitate the introduction of Lawrence, Tim Grey switches to blindside flanker, while in the backs there is a positional swap as Daf Smith starts at outside centre with Mason Grady moving to the wing.
Cardiff Blues A: Ioan Davies, Alex Varney, Dafydd Smith, Josh Male, Mason Grady, Rhys Davies, EthanLloyd; Theo Bevacqua, Ethan Lewis, Will Davies-King, Ben Murphy, Macauley Cook (c), Tim Grey,James Botham, Alun Lawrence
Replacements: Cameron Lewis, Rob Lewis, Ben Warren, Teddy Williams, Aled Ward, Zach Bartlett, Jacob Beetham, Dylan Williams
With the addition of those first team and Senior Academy players, particularly up front, Cardiff Blues should be in a position to be more competitive than they were against Ospreys last weekend.
Especially with reportedly strong performances from U18s Ethan Lloyd at scrum-half and Theo Bevacqua at loosehead prop, hopefully a platform can be laid on for the backs to get over the try line.
As always though it’s about development and exposure for these players, and once again the Celtic Cup is coming up trumps in this department.