Six Nations Round Up

The February/March international window is over for another year, and as the domestic season swings back into action for the run-in, it’s time to have a quick look back at how Cardiff’s players got on representing their countries around the World.

Wales

It’s fair to say that the Cardiff contingent in the Welsh Six Nations squad wasn’t particularly sizeable, with only Kris Dacey, Scott Andrews, Sam Warburton and Alex Cuthbert being called up the squad.

This wasn’t particularly surprising given the poor form suffered by Cardiff in the previous few weeks, and injuries suffered by the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Ellis Jenkins, Gareth Anscombe and Tom James. Perhaps the only surprise omission was Rhys Gill, who had been excellent in the absence of Gethin.

There wasn’t any further surprises in the fact that only Sam Warburton had any real exposure to match action throughout the course of the tournament, playing every minute of every match, with only Alex Cuthbert joining him for the 80 minutes against England.

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Alex Cuthbert was vilified by trolls online

 

Unfortunately Cuthbert was the victim of that week’s witch hunt from the Team Wales super fans, blamed for England’s match winning try despite being left stranded by a poor Jon Davies kick, and he was subsequently discarded for the rest of the tournament. That was good news for Cardiff though as we benefitted from two excellent performances against Treviso and Edinburgh.

Sam Warburton on the other hand had a superb tournament. Out of position at blindside flanker he still topped the turnover charts for Wales with seven, was top tackler in two games and came to be a reliable lineout jumper as he won universal plaudits for his revitalised captaincy free performances.

Add to this the fact that he returns to Cardiff injury free, and it’s good news all round!

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Sam Warburton was imperious for Wales

Wales U20

There was excellent Cardiff Blues representation throughout this season’s U20 Six Nations, with twelve players named in the initial squad, as well as two further players who would link up once Wales 7s commitments were finished.

All fourteen players got game time throughout the five games, with Ben Jones and Rhys Carre starting every match, while Dane Blacker, Corrie Tarrant, Kieron Assiratti and Aled Ward all featured in each game.

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Ben Jones scores against England

 

Cameron Lewis and Rhun Williams missed just one game, Jim Botham and Owen Lane were restricted by Wales 7s while Shane Lewis-Hughes, Callum Bradbury and Morgan Sieniawski were hindered by injuries, while Tom Mably made a solitary appearance off the bench but did feature for Cardiff A in the meantime.

Accumulatively there was 109 points scored by Cardiff players for the U20s through the tournament, a fantastic amount as Jason Strange’s side, also coached by Richard Hodges, fought to a third placed finish. With at least eight of the fourteen players in their first year at this level the future really is bright.

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Jim Botham in action against France

 

Picking out a few players for a moment, the two props, Rhys Carre and Kieron Assiratti, were rock solid throughout the tournament and seem real prospects, while the half-back partnership of Dane Blacker and Ben Jones look incredibly exciting with ball in hand and seem to have a very good understanding between them.

The task now for Danny Wilson and his coaching staff is to ensure that these players continue on the right track with their development and are able to receive and make the most of first team opportunities. We won’t ever have the most money, but if we can produce stars then we can go some way to levelling the playing field.

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Rhys Carre received plenty of plaudits

 

USA Rugby

The Americas Rugby Championship returned for another year while the Six Nations was on, and Cardiff’s American contingent were out representing the stars and stripes as the USA Eagles romped to victory.

Blaine Scully was released to play in the opening week where he captained America to a win against Uruguay in San Antonio before returning to Pro12 action.

With Scully returning, Cameron Dolan went the other way, scoring off the bench in a hammering of Brazil before starting in the big game against Canada. He went on to start and score in the final two games, a win over Chile and a draw against Argentina, which secured the trophy.

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Cam Dolan celebrates one of his American tries

 

Overall an impressive month for Cardiff’s international representatives, and with an encouraging bill of health for the returning players, hopefully they can all bring something to our push towards the end of the season, whether that be in a match environment or on the training field.

Six Nations: Cardiff Report

With the international window out of the way and club rugby returned to normality it’s time to catch up on how our international contingent have been getting on across the age levels on different continents.

Six Nations

First up is the senior Northern Hemisphere competition and it was a disappointing start for New-Zealand born Gareth Anscombe who was named to start at full-back in the opening game against Ireland, but was forced to pull out late in the day with a minor muscle injury. Tom James was selected though as he made his first start for six years under Warren Gatland, nine tries in all competitions for Cardiff just too good to ignore. He was joined, of course, by captain Sam Warburton in the starting XV.

Not in the starting team though was Gethin Jenkins, with Llanelli’s Rob Evans chosen ahead of him At just 23, Evans is 12 years Jenkins’ junior, and very much seen as the heir to the loosehead throne. Starting Evans is all part of him gaining experience, and with Melon on the bench he can be called upon when needed. Gethin was joined on the bench by Wales’ official bench warmer of the past few months, Lloyd Williams, and Alex Cuthbert, who retains the trust of Gatland despite not really recovering his form.

 

Tom James is back in the Wales set-up

 

In a tight 16-16 draw none of the Cardiff players particularly stood out, with Warburton stifled somewhat by starting at six and partnering Justin Tipuric at flanker, while Tom James received little to no service on the wing, but did make an excellent try saving tackle. Off the bench, Gethin was solid as ever, while Lloyd injected a much needed pace that is lacking from Gareth Davies at scrum half. Alex Cuthbert was left unused on the sidelines.

Onto week two and for the visit of Scotland the only Cardiff change was to see Cuthbert dropped from the bench in place of Kiwi born Anscombe, fully recovered from the previous game. Warburton again found the same problems with partnering Tipuric, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see Warburton back on his favoured blindside, with Dan Lydiate starting at six. Tom James did get a free run this time out as he set off on an 80 metre dash to the line, but unusually for TJ he was chased down by Duncan Taylor.

Despite Gareth Davies again hindering any tempo, Lloyd didn’t replace him until too late to make an impact, while Gethin was his continually solid self off the bench. NZ born Anscombe was placed at full-back by Gatland in the middle of the second half, and aside from the normal catching and aimless Wales kicking stuff, he did get completely walked past by Taylor as the Scots scored a late try. Proof again he’s not a full-back, but a 27-23 win for Wales nonetheless.

 

Gareth Anscombe was born in New Zealand, you know.

 

Week three came around and France arrived in Cardiff lacking any sort of form. Wales did return to Sam Warburton to his favoured openside with Dan Lydiate partnering him at flanker, while the bulk of Alex Cuthbert was preferred to that of Tom James. Gethin Jenkins, Lloyd Williams and Gareth Anscombe kept their spots on the bench. Again there was nothing particularly eye-catching from the Cardiff boys as the team laboured to a 19-10 victory.

As the big game vs England rolled around in the penultimate week of the championships the Cardiff involvement started to reduce somewhat. Gethin Jenkins had picked up a foot injury so was out for Paul James, while Rhys Webb’s return to fitness meant Lloyd Williams missed out on the matchday squad. Alex Cuthbert was again selected ahead of Tom James with Gatland saying TJ was ‘lacking match fitness’. Just bizarre.

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Alex Cuthbert returned to the Wales team

 

The Cardiff contingent lessened again into the second half as Sam Warburton was knocked clean out making a tackle, while Gareth Anscombe remaining unused on the bench meant only Alex Cuthbert was really involved in the game. He didn’t do a massive amount and Wales slipped out of the tournament reckoning with a 25-21 loss.

The final week saw no Cardiff players in the Wales starting XV, which is a worry really. Alex Cuthbert was injured but Tom James still got no look in. Lloyd Williams was again relegated to third choice while Sam Warburton failed the head injury assessments. Gethin Jenkins did return to fitness to sit on the bench alongside Gareth Anscombe and both got half an hour to impress as Team Wales waltzed past Italy with a 67-14 win to finish off a disappointing campaign.

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Sam Warburton gives the thumbs up as he’s wheeled off

 

U20 Six Nations

If Cardiff involvement at senior level was slightly disappointing, then the U20s was anything but. No less than six Cardiff boys started the first game, with Corey Domachowski and Dillon Lewis the props, Shane Lewis-Hughes at lock, Harri Millard in the centres, Elis Wyn Benham on the wing and Rhun Williams at full-back. Joining them in the match day 23 were Rob Lewis, Morgan Sieniawski and Jarrod Evans off the bench.

It was a strong performance for all as the scrum dominated while the backs played with a creative freedom that saw Williams set up a Millard try on the way to a 24-35 win at Donnybrook.

The theme of big Cardiff presence in the U20s continued in Colwyn Bay for the Scotland game as the same six started and only Jarrod Evans was missing off the bench as he went to Treviso with the Cardiff firsts. A slightly more difficult match against a strong Scittish outfit but the players dug deep to grind out an 18-15 victory. Millard joined Williams in the provider ranks as they combined to send winger Keegan Giles over.

 

Harri Millard crosses v Ireland

 

Week three saw Rhun Williams, Harri Millard, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Dillon Lewis and Corey Domachowski start against France, with Morgan Sieniawski coming off the bench. The scrum was extremely impressive while the backs were dangerous, a trip on Williams earning France player Ngandele a second yellow card as the younger lads won 16-10.

Heading to Bristol with the U20 grand slam in their sights the junior Welshman produced a fantastic performance. The same Cardiff players were involved and Dillon Lewis particularly earned plaudits for his scrummaging, while Harri Millard scored another try as Wales won 16-42. An evening of the highest quality to set up a huge last game at home to Italy.

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Dillon Lewis was very impressive on Wales U20 duty

 

The same Cardiff players played for the third week in a row, and they nearly joined the rest of the team in bottling the occasion as the Azzurri held the 20s to a 6-6 draw at half-time. However a second half rampage saw the boys return to the Arms Park as U20 Six Nations Grand Slam winners thanks to a 35-6 win. Well done to them!

Wales U18s

While the Six Nations was on the youngest of the Wales sides took the chance to play some internationals as the U18s played against France and England at home ahead of an U18 international series across Easter. The Wales side included forwards Rhys Carre, Corrie Tarrent and Aled Ward, as well as backs in the wonderkid Owen Lane, and second choice fly half Ben Jones. Declan Williams also took a spot on the bench for the England side.

Ben Jones was the only player to get on the scoresheet with a conversion in each game, although a missed penalty from halfway proved costly against England. That game was lost 26-27 after a 17-8 win over the French. All Cardiff players played well though judging by reports and increased the feeling that the future of the Cardiff Blues is very bright.

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Owen Lane on the attack for Wales U18

 

Americas Rugby Championship

Blaine Scully and Cameron Dolan were both selected to start the first Americas Rugby Championship game of the revamped competition, with Scully captaining the US to an entertaining 35-35 draw. Just after 65 minutes, back rower Dolan intercepted a loose Argentinian pass and galloped the 30m to the Houston try line. Well done to both lads for representing Cardiff out there for the game, and good to have them back unscathed.

 

Cam Dolan races away for his try