The pool stage of the Indigo Group Premiership Cup came to a close last weekend with Cardiff’s high-scoring defeat against Merthyr at the Arms Park ensuring that it departed in style.
Steve Law’s men will now face Carmarthen Quins in a home quarter-final, after the Welsh Rugby Union added quarter-finals to the competition without announcing it some time in late September, with that game apparently taking place in late January, followed by semi-finals in late March and then a Final either in late April or early May.
All that could change depending on the next spin of the WRU’s community game competition organiser tombola though.
Nevertheless one thing is for certain and that is the Indigo Group Premiership proper starts next weekend, and going into the campaign the Rags are in a very good place having taken big steps forward as a squad through the last 10 weeks of the Cup competition.
I wrote during the weekend off around the halfway point about how the Blue and Blacks had made a strong start to their new life as a proper second team of Cardiff Rugby, with 45 players having been used by that point focusing particularly on the first team players who had enjoyed game time and played big parts in some of those early season wins.
In the four games since that break though there have been only 34 players used, with just four of those having professional contracts with the first team; Iestyn Harris, Keiron Assiratti, Alun Lawrence and Sam Moore.
Meanwhile there have been 14 Cardiff Academy players selected, the largest contingent within the squad with 12 semi-professionals, three permit players and Dan Fish in a player/coach/magician category all of his own.
It is those Academy players where the biggest improvements have been seen, with the Rags’ reliance on moments of brilliance from Fish and first team players reducing by the week as a settled squad selection and increasing confidence of the younger players have seen others come to the fore with those individual moments, and the team cohesion take a step forward alongside that.
Rewinding to the Newport and Ebbw Vale games a few weeks ago for example, there were periods of both games where the Blue and Blacks were dominating possession and territory but struggling to make a breakthrough as the lineout faltered or attacking phase play failed to create any line breaks or try scoring opportunities.
Over the last two weeks though, in games against Pontypridd and Merthyr, Cardiff have scored a total of 74 points as some of the younger players have grown into the season. Ethan Lloyd at scrum-half has started to really dictate the attacking direction, Ryan Wilkins and Ioan Evans have struck up a superb partnership at centre, while Jacob Beetham has grown in confidence week-on-week.
This has seen each of those put up highlight reel moments of creativity or individual scoring, taking advantage of the platform laid on by the likes of Jack Maynard and James Beal.
Then in the forwards the consistently good work of Alex Everett and Alun Lawrence has been complimented by Alex Mann and Gwilym Bradley making real impressions from flanker, and Rhys Anstey stepping up in the absence of Sean Moore, Rory Bartle and Gareth Allen to add a physical presence to the engine room and constant lineout option.
Unfortunately the power and experience of Merthyr got the better of a Cardiff side sporting a number of changes as Spot took the opportunity to look at some of his wider squad, particularly up front, but as these young men continue on their Premiership journey this season they will no doubt add experience to their armour alongside talent and confidence, resulting in a different scoreline when the Ironmen return to the Arms Park in March.
The immediate future sees the Rags travelling to Llanelli on the 11th and Swansea on the 18th December though, first team circumstances permitting.