Cardiff Rugby get the 2021/22 campaign underway with a pre-season friendly away at Gallagher Premiership champions Harlequins on Saturday afternoon, 3pm kick-off at the Twickenham Stoop.
After two months on the paddock, Dai Young’s men take the field having done summer work under the new Director of Rugby for the first time since his return to the club, assisted by another returning coach in the shape of backs and attack supremo Matt Sherratt.
It was a successful second half of last season under the former British & Irish Lion as the Blue and Blacks qualified for the Heineken Champions Cup and were competitive in the Rainbow Cup while experimenting with youthful team selections and playing players in new positions, but Young still had plenty of work he wanted to do with the squad to get them to where he wants them.
That will come to fruition on Saturday at the Twickenham Stoop in an historic fixture against Harlequins that dates back to April 1882 when the English side travelled to the Arms Park for the first team, ahead of Cardiff making the return journey a year later.
Fixtures continued until 1886 before being picked up again in 1911, continuing regularly through pre, inter and post-War years, with the sides having now met 130 times of which Cardiff have won 94, Quins 25 and games have been drawn on 11 occasions. The most recent clashes came in the 2015/16 European Challenge Cup pool stage when the English side did the double.
Harlequins come off the back of a fantastic 2020/21 campaign where, despite coaching turmoil that saw Paul Gustard depart in January with the side seventh in the table, they recovered to qualify for the play-offs courtesy of finishing fourth and promptly staged a stunning comeback to beat Bristol in extra-time in the semi-finals before edging out Exeter in a 38-40 thriller to lift the trophy.
Familiar faces Billy Millard, former Cardiff General Manager, and Adam Jones, former Cardiff prop, have seen New Zealander Tabai Matson arrive as Head Coach this summer, and the new man has named a 33-man squad for Saturday’s game comprising of wider senior squad players and Academy talent, as the likes of Joe Marler, Wilco Louw, Alex Dombrandt, Danny Care and Marcus Smith sit out.
There is still plenty of quality involved though as new signings Huw Jones, the Scottish centre, and Tommaso Allan, the Italian fly-half, are included, as is Luke Northmore who could line up opposite former Cardiff Met RFC team-mate Max Llewellyn in midfield.
Harlequins (from): Andre Esterhuizen, Archie White (co-captain), Cadan Murley, Cassius Cleaves, Connor Slevin, Craig Trenier, Dino Lamb, Fin Baxter, George Hammond, George Head, Hugh Tizard, Huw Jones, Jack Kenningham, Jack Stafford, Jack Walker, Lennox Anyanwu, Lewis Gjaltema, Louis Lynagh, Luke Northmore, Luke Wallace, Makeen Alikhan, Matt Symons, Nick David, Ross Chisholm, Sam Riley, Santiago Garcia Botta, Scott Steele, Simon Kerrod, Tom Lawday (co-captain), Tommy Allan, Tyrone Green, Will Edwards, Will Trenholm
In a similar fashion, Dai Young has named a squad of mostly wider senior squad members, with some younger players also given an opportunity, as players involved with Wales or the British & Irish Lions summer campaigns have either recently or are yet to return to pre-season training.
Shane Lewis-Hughes, Ellis Jenkins, Max Llewellyn, Garyn Smith and Aled Summerhill all start having missed the majority of the second half of last season through injury, the likes of Will Davies-King, Alun Lawrence and Jamie Hill are given a chance to push for selection, while Kirby Myhill captains the side from hooker.
On the bench there are opportunities for Rags second row Sean Moore, Academy second row Rhys Anstey and Academy scrum-half Ethan Lloyd to make their first senior professional appearances, while Immanuel Feyi-Waboso could get just a second outing.
Cardiff: Matthew Morgan, Jason Harries, Garyn Smith, Max Llewellyn, Aled Summerhill, Jason Tovey, Jamie Hill; Rhys Gill, Kirby Myhill (c), Will Davies-King, James Ratti, Rory Thornton, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Ellis Jenkins, Alun Lawrence
Replacements: Kris Dacey, Brad Thyer, Scott Andrews, Sean Moore, Rhys Anstey, Gwilym Bradley, Olly Robinson, Sam Moore, Ethan Lloyd, Rhys Priestland, Harri Millard, Immanuel Feyi-Waboso
With a dry day forecast in London, supporters back at the Stoop for the first time since their Premiership win, and two teams who have a similar outlook on fast and expansive attack, it could well be a cracker of a tie despite being a pre-season friendly.
Add in the incentive of getting a one-up on the opposition ahead of the sides meeting in the Heineken Champions Cup pool stages in a few months, and there could well be a lot of points scored.
For Cardiff the focus will be on conditioning and being in a suitable physical condition to play Young’s high-tempo attacking game for a good 60 minutes without running out of gas, with that subsequently impacting on the intensity and discipline within the defensive game, as well as seeing an improvement at the lineout and maul which were real weaknesses last season.
As well as that, avoiding injuries would be helpful as the internationals are still not quite ready to return and the injury list is already looking a little long. The game will be streamed by Harlequins on Facebook and YouTube, so if you’re not travelling up settle in to watch, and come on Cardiff!