The 2019 Celtic Cup draws to a close this weekend as Cardiff Blues A welcome Scarlets A to the Arms Park on Friday night in the final round.
It’s a been a disjointed campaign for Cardiff Blues, who have had to rely heavily on players from the region’s Premiership and Championship teams, as well as a number of U18 players, with senior academy and young first team squad members either injured or involved with the first team.
As a result the league table shows Gethin Jenkins and T Rhys Thomas’ men sitting bottom, with only the victory over Dragons A in what was essentially a pre-season friendly to show for their endeavours.
Friday night’s opponents, Scarlets A, will once again finish as the top Welsh team but will not play in the Final this year, as the new format sees them sat fourth in the table, unable to catch Ulster A who are currently in second place.
Scarlets bounced back from a loss to Connacht two weeks ago with an impressive 46-28 win over Munster A last week, thanks to a try scoring performance from former Cardiff Blues man Tom James, but the winger is one of three changes as he is called up to the West Walians first team to play Glasgow Warriors this weekend.
Morgan Williams replaces him out wide, while the other change in the backs sees experienced English fly-half Ryan Lamb make his first Scarlets appearance after signing a short-term deal. He replaces Ioan Hughes at 10.
Up front Steff Thomas switches with Dylan Evans at loosehead prop, with the forwards pack sporting Jac Price, Morgan Jones and Jac Morgan who all played for Wales U20 at the World Rugby U20 Championships over the summer.
Scarlets A: Tom Prydie, Tomi Lewis, Tom Rogers, Osian Knott, Morgan Williams, Ryan Lamb, Jonathan Evans; Steffan Thomas, Dafydd Hughes, Javan Sebastian, Jac Price, Morgan Jones, Danny Drake, Jac Morgan (c), Lewys Millin
Replacements: Dylan Evans, Shaun Evans, Simon Gardiner, Chris Long, Lewis Ellis-Jones, Daf Land, Ioan Hughes, Ryan Davies
While Scarlets have been able to name a largely settled side, Cardiff Blues A have made 11 changes to the team that lost to Connacht Eagles last weekend.
Only Teddy Williams and James Botham in the forwards, and Ioan Davies and Merthyr’s Sam Jones in the backs remain as Gethin Jenkins and T Rhys Thomas are able to welcome back a number of Cardiff Blues senior squad and senior academy players.
Kirby Myhill, Jamie Hill and Ben Thomas all start having been in South Africa last week, while Macauley Cook, Dan Fish and Max Llewellyn return from injury, alongside Ben Warren who is promoted from the bench.
There is still regional club representation though as Francis Lewis, James Ratti, Ollie Drake and Zach Bartlett are involved as either Cardiff RFC contracted or permit players, while Aled Ward is Cardiff Met RFC captain and Chris Phillips is another Merthyr player.
Cardiff Blues A: Ioan Davies, Sam Jones, Max Llewellyn, Ben Thomas, Mason Grady, Dan Fish, Jamie Hill; Francis Lewis, Kirby Myhill, Ben Warren, Teddy Williams, Macauley Cook (c), Aled Ward, James Botham, Tim Grey
Replacements: Cameron Lewis, Chris Phillips, Ollie Drake, James Ratti, Gwilym Bradley, Zach Bartlett, Rhys Davies, Dafydd Smith
It’s probably the closest that Cardiff Blues A have got to naming a proper development team in the tournament so far, with a squad of Cardiff Blues contracted players largely between 18 and 23 with a smattering of senior players being the ideal selection.
Unfortunately it’s too little too late for this season, not the fault of anyone in a Rugby World Cup year, but it would still be a positive note to finish on if a win could be secured at the Arms Park on Friday night.
After three heavy defeats in a row though, just a competitive performance would be good.