Rags to become key for first team’s South African trip

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Cardiff have chosen not to arrange any A team friendlies over the next three weeks, instead opting to utilise the Rags in the Indigo Group Premiership Cup to keep players fresh and get others fit.

Unlike the Scarlets, Ospreys and Dragons, who have arranged some games between themselves and, reportedly, against English opposition, the Blue and Blacks will focus on second team games against Newport, Ebbw Vale and Pontypridd during the international window.

With the opening two first team games of the next fixture block, against Lions and Stormers respectively, now taking place in South Africa after travel restrictions were lifted by the Welsh Government, Dai Young is expecting to travel without a number of big name players.

Josh Navidi will definitely be injured and Rey Lee-Lo is likely to be suspended, while potentially all 11 of the Cardiff players currently in the Wales squad for the autumn could be missing. Certainly any involved in the final game of the campaign against Australia will not travel for the first game of the trip, while all will have been a bio-bubble for at least three-and-a-half weeks.

Whether any would fly out just for the second game remains to be seen, but with cost implications as well as huge games in the Heineken Champions Cup and United Rugby Championship coming up on the other side of South Africa, it would seem unlikely.

As a result Young will be keen for some members of his squad to get game time under their belts as he will need to call on some players who have featured either sparingly or not at all so far this season.

Up front, Rhys Gill has had just 11 minutes of game time after suffering a head knock shortly after coming off the bench against Sharks, Liam Belcher has appeared for just 28 minutes as a replacement against Connacht in round one, while Scott Andrews and Keiron Assiratti both have just one substitute appearance for the Rags each.

In the second row Teddy Williams could probably do with stretching his legs after two Rags start and 15 minutes off the bench against Dragons, while Ben Murphy only made his return from injury when starting against RGC last time out for Steve Law’s men.

Then into the back row and we are yet to see Olly Robinson or Alun Lawrence take the field in a competitive game for the first or second team so far in 2021/22, and with Josh Navidi injured, and Ellis Jenkins and Shane Lewis-Hughes now in the Wales squad, they may well be needed by the Blue and Blacks.

Meanwhile, James Botham is believed to be close to in contention for the trip to South Africa, and could well benefit from an appearance for the Rags in order to prove his fitness and be able to hit the ground running in the southern hemisphere.

In the backs and Ellis Bevan will certainly require a run-out having not played since the second week of the season, while Jamie Hill is in a similar position although it is believed he had picked up a knock towards the end of the fixture block.

At fly-half Jason Tovey has yet to appear for either side this season, with a coronavirus protocol ruling him out of the Dragons clash last time out, and in the centre Max Llewellyn and Garyn Smith may well need to start striking up a partnership with neither having enjoyed more than one full 80 minutes so far this campaign. It is unknown whether Mason Grady is close to returning yet from a knee injury.

Finally in the back three Aled Summerhill has only enjoyed one appearance against Pontypridd due to wrist and coronavirus issues.

It’s a relatively long list of players, and a short space of time to get them all involved as well as maintaining game time for the academy and semi-professional players in the squad, but if the first team are going to stand any chance of getting results at the end of the month, particularly at Ellis Park’s altitude, then they will need to be as sharp as possible heading out there.

All the while ensuring the Rags continue to be competitive and, crucially, finish above them Black and Ambers.

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