Preview: Cardiff v Ospreys

After last weekend’s heavy defeat away at Exeter, Richard Hodges’ Cardiff Anglo-Welsh Cup side welcome West Wales rivals Ospreys to the Arms Park in the hope of bouncing back with a win.

To assist in that task a number of experienced faces have been recalled to the squad in the hope of providing some much needed ballast to the core of youngsters that remain from the trip to Sandy Park.

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James Sheekey’s try couldn’t stop a 62-25 loss

 

Matthew Rees leads the side from hooker and is joined in the front row by Georgian tighthead Anton Peikrishvili making his first start for Cardiff. Jarrad Hoeata joins James Down in the second row, while Macauley Cook comes in at flanker. In the backs Cory Allen is selected at centre while Dan Fish starts to full-back.

There is still an undercurrent of academy running through the team though with Ben Jones starting at fly-half in place of the injured Jarrod Evans, and Owen Lane replacing Aled Summerhill who misses out after failing return to play protocols. Rhodri Davies also starts for the first time after joining short-term from Llandovery.

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Anton Peikrishvili provides experience on his first start

 

The average age of the squad goes from 20 to almost 23, pretty high for an Anglo-Welsh Cup game. The good news is that most of that age increase comes up front, where we struggled so much last week. With Hoeata joining down in the engine room, it should help to sure up the maul defence and hopefully Cook will be able to assist Shane Lewis-Hughes in doing a bit more work at defensive breakdowns.

The only real concern within the squad is that Ben Jones has no obvious cover at fly-half. The Coleg y Cymoedd student was chucked in at the deep end last week when Evans broke his jaw after 10 minutes and grew into the game despite the pack doing little to provide any front foot ball, but if he should get injured then Dan Fish is the only ‘obvious’ candidate to replace him.

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Ben Jones is the only fly-half in the squad

 

The replacements may be an issue elsewhere as only Hemi Barnes has played a significant quantity of senior rugby, and all of that has come at semi-professional Pontypridd. When you compare that to Ospreys, who can count on names such as Sam Parry, Paul James, Joe Bearman and Dan Evans to come off the bench, we are somewhat lacking in experience.

In terms of starting XVs though we are roughly equal. They have their fair share senior players in Rob McCusker, Brendon Leonard and Jonathan Spratt, while youngsters Adam Beard, Joe Thomas and Phil Jones add some youthfulness in a team that sees five changes from last week.

That match saw Ospreys go down to Harlequins at St. Helens 12-15, leaving both sides looking to secure their first wins in this season’s competition and hopefully repeat winning the competition as Cardiff did in 2009 and our visitors did in 2008 (who knew?).

Cardiff team: Dan Fish, Owen Lane, Cory Allen, Garyn Smith, Rhun Williams, Ben Jones, Rhodri Davies; Brad Thyer, Matthew Rees (c), Anton Peikrishvili, Jarrad Hoeata, James Down, Macauley Cook, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Sheekey

Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Carre, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, James Botham, Hemi Barnes, Dane Blacker, Harri Millard

Ospreys team: Dafydd Howells, Tom Grabham, Joe Thomas, Jonathan Spratt, Eli Walker, Phil Jones, Brendon Leonard; Gareth Thomas, Scott Otten, Rhodri Jones, Adam Beard, Rory Thornton, Olly Cracknell, Sam Underhill, Rob McCusker (c)

Replacements: Sam Parry, Paul James, Ma’afu Fia, James Ratti, Joe Bearman, Matthew Aubrey, Dan Evans, Tom O’Flaherty

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Rhun Williams switches to the wing for the visit of Ospreys

Of course we all know the current losing streak that Cardiff are on when it comes to playing our Swansea-based rivals, but that is contained to the Pro12 as actually you only have to go back three years to find a team including Dan Fish and a try scoring Macauley Cook beating Ospreys losing 13-21 at the Liberty Stadium.

Actually in terms of result though this game isn’t particularly important, as I said last week. However, it’s not the case that the final score absolutely doesn’t matter as I’m sure a hammering like last week can’t have been good for morale. It is also an indicator that actually the young players haven’t had a chance to do what is important, to perform.

Hopefully the added experience will provide a closer game and allow the exciting backs of Owen Lane, Rhun Williams and Ben Jones a chance to show what they can do, while also giving the likes of James Sheekey a chance to show off his carrying game.

A good game to be expected on Friday night at Cardiff Arms Park then, with the sides almost on an even footing, although I think Ospreys will come into the match as favourites with slightly more players in and and around the first team included in their squad. Let’s just hope the young players have more chance to shine. Come on Cardiff!!!

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Macauley Cook scored in his last game vs Treviso, and the last time Cardiff played Ospreys in the Anglo-Welsh Cup

 

 

 

 

Preview: Exeter v Cardiff

The Anglo-Welsh Cup swings into life this weekend for the Welsh clubs as Cardiff Blues start with an away trip to Exeter Chiefs. After taking a year off for the World Cup the competition returns to provide fringe and youth players the chance to stake a claim for regular first team rugby while international players are away with Autumn series games.

Cardiff have pedigree in this tournament of course as the only Welsh champions of the tournament back in 2009. Only Tom James, who scored a try in the final, Gethin Jenkins and Fa’ao Filise remain from the 12-50 win over Gloucester at Twickenham, although none will have any involvement in the Anglo-Welsh Cup these days unless we return to the latter stages once again.

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Paul Tito lifts the then EDF Energy Cup

 

 

Our opponents on Sunday are also former champions, having won the competition in 2013/14 beating Northampton in the final. That year they finished top of Cardiff’s group although we didn’t actually play each other as the Anglo-Welsh Cup format is that the teams in pool three, as we are this year, play all four teams from pool two, with pools one and four doing the same thing and the winner of each group qualifying for the semi-final.

As such this year we find ourselves in a group with Harlequins, Wasps and Bristol this season but facing Ospreys (home), Sale (away), Worcester (home) and of course Exeter (away). Thanks to Pro12 scheduling the tournament actually began for the English sides last weekend, with Quins beating Exeter, while Bristol and Wasps lost to Worcester and Sale, respectively.

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Exeter lift their LV Cup trophy aloft

 

Our only previous encounter with the Chiefs on the field in this tournament came in 2010/11, almost exactly six years to the date of Sunday’s game, when the two sides drew 23-23 thanks to a last minute kick from academy fly-half Joseph Griffin (answers on a postcard what he’s up to now).

Plenty of current players, then in the youth of their careers, featured that day as Kris Dacey, Macauley Cook, Scott Andrews, James Down, Josh Navidi, Lloyd Williams, Tom James and try scorer Dan Fish all played, while four other squad members are still playing professional rugby elsewhere.

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James Down featured for Cardiff as a youngster the last time against Exeter

 

 

Regional development pathway manager Richard Hodges, who will be in charge of the side over the next two games, spoke this week about how good of an opportunity this still is for the young players to gain valuable experience, while also announcing that Garyn Smith will lead the side during the pool stages.

Plenty of youngsters have been given the chance to prove themselves under Smith’s stewardship, with 13 players currently in the academy selected as well as five players only recently graduated. With an average age of 21 there isn’t a lot of experience but it’s certainly an exciting, fresh lineup as 11 players will make their senior debuts for the club either as academy players or new signings.

Cardiff team vs Exeter: Rhun Williams, Aled Summerhill, Harri Millard, Garyn Smith (c), James Beal, Jarrod Evans, Dane Blacker; Brad Thyer, Kirby Myhill, Dillon Lewis, Jack Davies, James Down, Seb Davies, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Sheekey

Replacements: Liam Belcher, Rhys Carre, Anton Peikrishvili, Hemi Barnes, Morgan Sieniawski, Rhodri Davies, Ben Jones, Owen Lane

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Anton Peikrishvili could make his debut off the bench

 

 

There will be a few very unfamiliar faces amongst the wave of new players, so here’s a run down of some of those involved on Sunday;

James Beal – Signed for Cardiff RFC in the summer after graduating from Cardiff Met and having played for British Universities 7s. Has scored five tries in six games for the Rags, also scored for Cardiff A against London Scottish last month in the British and Irish Cup after helping Cardiff Blues 7s win the Premiership 7s Plate during pre-season.

Dane Blacker – Tier Two Academy scrum-half who also won the Premiership 7s Plate in August. Impressed with his pace on that occasion and has appeared a few times for Pontypridd this season, scoring against Llanelli RFC at Parc y Scarlets. Only 18 he has been drafted into the squad due to international call-ups, serious injuries and departing players.

Jack Davies – Under 18 squad member who has appeared five times for Cardiff RFC this season, scoring one try. Former Cowbridge Comprehensive pupil will be making his debut.

Rhodri Davies – Signed from Llandovery RFC as short term injury cover during the scrum-half crisis, the Wales 7s man will start on the bench on Sunday. The 25 year old was released by Scarlets as a youngster bit has gone on to make 61 appearances for the Drovers, scoring 16 tries.

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Dane Blacker scores for Cardiff Blues 7s

 

 

Exeter on the other hand have named a somewhat more experienced team including 25-cap Italian international centre Michele Campagnaro, full-back Phil Dollman with 150+ club appearances and eight-cap England international Tom Johnson. Former Cardiff players Damian Welch and Ben White are included in the pack.

Exeter team vs Cardiff: Phil Dollman, Max Bodilly, Michele Campagnaro, Tom Hendrickson, Ian Whitten, Joe Simmonds, Will Chudley; Billy Keast, Shaun Malton, Jack Owlett, Ollie Atkins, Damian Welch, Ben White, Sam Simmonds, Tom Johnson (c)

Replacements: Jack Innard, Will Norton, Marcus Street, Josh Caulfield, Tom Lawday, Stuart Townsend, Harvey Skinner, Harry Strong

Sunday will certainly be an interesting encounter with the largely inexperienced side led by Richard Hodges going up against Exeter’s more weathered XV and renowned academy members. Although performance is important, I don’t feel the result is as much with this team playing together for the first time and only having a week to train.

I would like to see players really putting their all into taking a chance to impress at a professional level, whatever the result is after that I cannot complain. This is a fantastic chance for the youngsters involved and I am quite excited as this is certainly a promising batch of academy members and graduates. I hope my optimism isn’t let down, come on Cardiff!!!

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Garyn Smith will captain the side

 

 

Ref Watch

Luke Pearce (RFU) – The Pontypool-born official is still only in the early stages of his career at 28, but thought of very highly in the English game. Once refereed us to an Anglo-Welsh Cup over Wasps at CAP, apart from that he has never officiated Cardiff.