It was a pre-season of two halves in many ways for Cardiff RFC as Steve Law’s men went from winning by 69 points to winning by three points two weeks later.
The occasion against London Welsh on the August Bank Holiday weekend as supporters returned to watch a Cardiff side play at the Arms Park for the first time in 18 months, two historic clubs went head-to-head in a fixture that can be traced back over 130 years, Welsh brought a strong travelling contingent of supporters and a minis team on tour.
However, from a purely rugby point of view the gap in quality between the two sides was simply too vast to be of much value to Law and his coaching team, as a 76-7 scoreline underlined. The Rags were able to score freely and were rarely troubled defensively in open play, although there was a question mark over the set piece.
Then fast forward two weeks and a meeting with Carmarthen Quins, who looked very much like a side who will once again challenge at the top of the Premiership this season, where a physical battle at the gain line and a tetchy battle off the boot saw Cardiff edge to a 10-13 win.
If the league was starting next weekend I’d be slightly concerned about where the team is in terms of being able to hit the ground running, but with the Indigo Group Premiership Cup acting as a pre-cursor to the league proper getting underway in December, there’s a great chance for the Rags to become a very well drilled side.
The positives are that partnerships are beginning to form across the park, between existing semi-professional players, new semi-professional players and Academy players. As those on-field relationships get tighter, so will the performances of the team as a whole.
Looking at the likes of Alex Everett and Morgan Allen linking with Gwilym Bradley and Ethan Fackrell in the back row, Ryan Wilkins and Tom Hoppe developing an understanding in the centre, and Jack Maynard and Jacob Beetham working as a 10 and 15 playmaking axis, there’s plenty to be encouraged by from the pre-season campaign.
There will be a big upside to the attacking game from these pairings kicking on, as it looked somewhat one-dimensional at Carmarthen on Saturday. With greater understanding should come greater variety, particularly through the back line.
Where Cardiff need a big improvement though is in the set piece, as after London Welsh pushed a maul over in the first pre-season game, the Quins dominated the scrum as Carmarthen Park and the Blue and Blacks lineout looked very shaky indeed.
This should be where the Premiership Cup comes into it’s own as some greater consistency in tight five selections allows for improved cohesion between the hookers and the jumpers, as well as a lineout caller to come to the fore and understand the strengths of the Rags lineout, as well as the right call for key moments of games.
In many ways this Cup is much like the Rainbow Cup the first team played in during the back end of last season, in that being competitive during the competition would be great, but it’s how it sets the team up for what comes next that is most important.
If the Rags win the Premiership on the back of building blocks put in place during the Cup, that would be a successful season.