Long live King Nicky!!

If there was one positive to the injury crisis that plagued Cardiff Blues throughout December and January of last season, it was the re-signing of Nicky Robinson as cover. The great homecoming, you could say.

Brought in with Gareth Anscombe and Jarrod Evans both in the treatment room, the fly-half made his second Cardiff debut at home to Ulster, coming off the bench to beautifully set up one try, before getting charged down to concede another. We’ll gloss over the latter part of that though.

King Nicky went on to feature in six more games in that middle part of the season, before seeing his playing time slowly lessen as Anscombe returned to fitness for the last few months.

Nicky Robinson Ulster
King Nicky in action on his second debut

The 13-time capped Wales international did continue to play an active part in and around The Vale training complex though, taking on additional coaching responsibilities and even appearing on the touchline wired up during some of the games in the latter part of the season.

Robinson is quite possibly one of the best passers of the ball to grace the game over the last 15 years. Off both hands he can pick a player out from first receiver, as well as being a danger himself, that sort of experience can be imparted onto any player in the squad.

As well as that, with over 2000 career points there is certainly some kicking knowledge that can be passed on to the likes of Anscombe, Evans and Steve Shingler as well as academy players Ben Jones and Ben Thomas.

Nicky Robinson Llanelli
You’ll struggle to find a better passer of the ball than Robinson

So what of next season? Well, the King only signed until the end of the season back in November, but he looks set to continue his reign over the Arms Park in a more official player/coach role.

The departure of Paul John has opened up a vacancy for a skills coach, and Robinson certainly hasn’t been short of them in his career. The chance for him to work with Jones, Thomas, Owen Lane, Garyn Smith, Dane Blacker, Aled Summerhill and the other young guys who are the future of Cardiff Blues will be massive for the club.

Ben Jones Exeter
There’s certain parallels between left-footed Ben Jones and King Nicky

There is nothing confirmed yet, but Nicky commented a few week back that he is “helping out a bit with the coaching side…it wasn’t something I really wanted to pursue as I haven’t done a huge amount of coaching.

“This just worked nicely as a nice opportunity to gain experience and see if it was something that I wanted to pursue long-term or not.”

Crucially on top of that “if there are any injuries like there were earlier in the season. I am there and raring to go.”

With 132 appearances across seven seasons we may not have seen the last of Robinson in action on the Arms Park pitch yet, and we certainly haven’t lost the effect he can have on the jersey, through the future performances of the players he is helping to mould.

It would be a shrewd move to match developing our players from within with developing our coaches from within. Talented, experienced and knowledgeable men who can instil a culture in the players, as well as impart their wisdom.

As well as that, it keeps the romantic in me happy in the hope that Nicky Robinson will rise off the bench to kick the match winning drop goal in next season’s Pro12 final. Long live the King!!

Nicky Robinson Gloucester
This is someone who knows what the blue jersey means

 

 

 

Smiler stays on

Cardiff Blues hooker Matthew Rees has extended his career by another year as he will stay on at the Arms Park until the summer of 2018.

The former Wales captain will enter his 16th season of professional rugby, having started his career at Pontypridd before joining the Celtic Warriors in 2003 and moving onto the Scarlets when the Valleys side disbanded, making 182 appearances for the Llanelli side over nine years.

Matthew Rees Scarlets
Matthew Rees has spent most of his career at Scarlets

Smiler, as Rees is affectionately known, also has 60 caps for the national side, winning the Grand Slam in 2009 and playing in the 2007 World Cup, as well as three British and Irish Lions test caps on the South Africa tour.

Perhaps his greatest career achievement though was defeating testicular cancer in 2013, with his Cardiff teammates offering their support via shaving their heads in aid of the Velindre cancer centre.

Sam Warburton head shave
Sam Warburton braves the shave

There has been speculation that Rees would move on from his time as a Blues player in each of the last two seasons, particularly in 2015 when he was actually released by the club before Danny Wilson came in and re-signed him, while last year there was a rumour the hooker would take the Cardiff RFC head coach job.

Now though we will see Smiler try to add to his 77 appearances amassed so far, including 25 last season, the most since arriving in the capital.

He mostly played second fiddle to Kris Dacey, meaning 16 of the appearances were restricted to coming off the replacements bench, however an imperious scrummaging ability means Rees may well find himself appearing in the starting XV more this season, with the set piece one of Cardiff’s weak points last year.

NGD Matthew Rees
Matthew Rees carries against Dragons

What with turning 37 in December, the hooker could well make up a front row that has a combined age of 114 alongside Gethin Jenkins and Fa’ao Filise, greater than the combined Brad Thyer, Corey Domachowski, Ethan Lewis, Kirby Myhill and Dillon Lewis.

There is no substitute for experience though, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the old stagers lining up together at some point next season, with Cardiff looking leaderless at points in 2016/17.

Matthew Rees still has plenty in the tank, and plenty to offer the likes of Dacey, Ethan and Myhill as they prepare to take over the hooking reigns. Smiler keeps on smiling!

Matthew Rees Coach
Matthew Rees will look to contribute on and off the pitch

Challenge Cup pool confirmed

There was a certain inevitably to the European Challenge Cup pool draws on Thursday, as Cardiff Blues wound up in the toughest group, alongside Sale Sharks, Lyon and Toulouse.

From the moment Ieuan Evans and Austin Healey selected the English side to join Cardiff in pool two, it seemed set in stone that things would only get worse as either some incredibly tricky trips to Russia or the European giants of Stade Toulousain awaited.

Challenge Cup Pool 2017 18
Pool two for the 2017/18 Challenge Cup

Fortunately pool one (NGD, Newcastle, Bordeaux, Enisei) and pool four (SF Paris, Edinburgh, London Irish, Krasny Yar) picked up the Eastern Europeans, while pool three (Agen, Gloucester, Pau, Zebre) and pool five (Brive, Connacht, Oyonnax, Worcester) generally became quite tame in their setups.

Toulouse did join us and will renew a rivalry that stretches back to the inaugural Heineken Cup Final back in 1996, through back-to-back quarter-finals in 2008 and 2009, before pool stage rivalries in 2010.

Jerome Cazalbou HCup 1996
Jerome Cazalbou scores for Toulouse as they win in ’96

So, in another twist to the bizarre tale that is supporting the Cardiff Blues, we end up with what has been entitled the ‘pool of death’.

In rugby playing terms it was probably not exactly what Danny Wilson wanted, with the main focus once again on trying to return to competitiveness in the top half of the Pro12. Add in the current financial climate, with the threat of players leaving lingering and a sparse coaching staff, and six tough games isn’t particularly warmly welcomed.

Despite being the ‘pool of death’ though, there is something eminently winnable about each fixture with French sides being well known for not taking the Challenge Cup seriously, look at last season’s continental opponents of Pau not even selecting Conrad Smith in their European squad.

James Down Fa'ao Filise Pau
Pau didn’t include their big stars in their Challenge Cup squad last season

Toulouse will be desperate to return to the business end of the Top14, and although they may well fancy some silverware, the league will be their main target.  Lyon too will prioritise the league, having only been down in the ProD2 as recently as 2015/16, while the French sides generally do not travel well in their own country, let alone Europe.

Sale will be a slightly different proposition, as the English sides tend to compete slightly better in the Challenge Cup, but having tasted Champions Cup rugby last season Sale will also be looking first to Aviva Premiership success. All three sides will have depth that we can only dream of though, and will provide stern tests.

Wilson will also be acutely aware of how the Challenge Cup contributed to most of the memorable aspects of last season, and how it positively impacted on Pro12 performance, the game against Gloucester being a prime example as 55 minutes of competitiveness gave the team confidence to finish the season with a four-game unbeaten run.

Gloucester Alex Cuthbert
55 minutes of domination against Gloucester was very encouraging

In business terms Chief Executive Richard Holland and his fellow members of the senior management will be pleased, firstly to avoid organising a trip to Russia, and also to secure a big tie against Toulouse, as well as the Anglo-Welsh Sale game. There’s certainly more ticket sales opportunities than against Pau, for example.

For the fans the ‘pool of death’ doubles as the ‘pool of glamour’. Greater Manchester might be a slight exception, although it will be a new ground to visit for many, but two trips to the south of France are not to be sniffed at and I’m sure there will be a vocal travelling support as ever.

Despite everything about the toughest group, and focusing on the Pro12 though, there’s always an underlying expectation that Cardiff will compete in Europe. From that Heineken Cup Final in 1996 to the Amlin Cup win in 2010 there was 15 years of continental success, which has been sadly lacking in recent times.

Filise
The Amlin win in 2010 was a very proud day for the club

There’s still something very special about a European night at the Cardiff Arms Park, while the passion of travelling support has not waned. The history of the club is linked with playing in the biggest games, and to do that in the Challenge Cup a team realistically has to qualify for the quarter-final.

European success is not make-or-break when it comes to analysing whether 2017/18 has been a successful season, but if we can look back on our Challenge Cup campaign with pride and some good away trips to remember, it will certainly be a positive. Come on Cardiff!!

Cardiff Arms Park at night
A European night under the Arms Park lights is still something to be savoured

The Opposition

Sale Sharks

Last season – 10th in Aviva Premiership, 4th in Champions Cup pool

Previous meeting – Cardiff Blues 26-14 Sale Sharks, January 2013

Famous game(s) – Sale 21-11 Cardiff, August 1998. The first game of the rebel season.

Players leaving – Mike Phillips, Sam Tuitupou, Sam Bedlow, Matt Rogerson, Brian Mujati, Neil Briggs, James Mitchell, Andrew Hughes, Charlie Ingall, Tim Jeffers, Magnus Lund, Jonathan Mills, Tom Morton, Dan Mugford, Peter Stringer

Players arriving – Josh Strauss, Will Cliff, Marc Jones, Alexandru Tarus, Jono Ross, WillGriff John, Faf de Klerk

Sale Sharks v Bath Rugby - LV= Cup
Sale’s AJ Bell Stadium

Lyon 

Last season – 10th in Top14, 2nd in Challenge Cup pool (didn’t qualify for knockouts)

Previous meeting – Never played

Famous game(s) – Never played

Players leaving – Thibaut Privat, Julien Bonnaire, Franck Romanet, Jacques-Louis Potgieter, Nisie Huyard, Maselino Paulino, Sami Mavinga, Romain Loursac, Guillaume Galletier, Nicolas Durand, Cameron Njewel, Curtis Browning, Ti’i Paulo, Zaza Navrozashvili, Paul Bonneford, Napolioni Nalaga

Players arriving – Jean-Marcelin Buttin, Virgile Lacombe, Theophile Cotte, Clement Ric, Piero Dominguez, Lionel Beauxis, Xavier Mignot, Maxime Granouillet, Francois van der Merwe, Etienne Oosthuizen, Richard Choirat, Jonathan Pelissie, Hendrik Roodt, Timilai Rokoduru, Alexis Plisson

Stade de Gerland
Lyon’s Stade de Gerland

Toulouse

Last season – 12th in Top14, lost in Champions Cup quarter-final

Previous meeting – Toulouse 23-7 Cardiff Blues, December 2009

Famous game(s) – Toulouse 21-18 Cardiff (aet), January 2006, the inaugural Heineken Cup final. Cardiff Blues 9-6 Toulouse, April 2009, Heineken Cup quarter-final.

Players leaving – Christopher Tolofua, Yacouba Camara, Census Johnston, Samuel Marques, Vasil Kakovin, Gregory Lamboley, Thierry Dusautoir, Luke McAlister, Toby Flood, Alexis Palisson

Players arriving – Louis-Benoit Madaule, Antoine Dupont, Zack Holmes, Charlie Faumuina, Lucas Pointud, Cheslin Kolbe, Baptiste Mouchous

Stade Ernest Wallon
Toulouse’s Stade Ernest-Wallon

One more year! (Version 5.0)

Rewind five years and as the 2011/12 season draws to a close there are rumours that prop Taufa’ao Filise is on the way out.

Nine appearances and an injury keeping him out since the January of that year, as well as a 35th birthday approaching, meant all the talk was that a retirement was on the way. With Scott Andrews and Benoit Bourrust on the books to cover tighthead there would’ve been little surprise if the Tongan had hung up his boots.

Filise
Filise celebrates the Amlin Cup win with Ma’ama Molitika

Even at the end of the 2014/15 campaign, where Filise had only made seven starts, there was talk of retirement with a 38th birthday on it’s way. Still the Cardiff Blues legend soldiered on though, to where we are now.

As Fa’ao turns 40 he signs on for a further year at the Arms Park, his 12th season playing for Wales’ Capital Region, and is currently in some of his best form. Six straight starts to finish the recent campaign, and a first try in just over five-and-a-half years, has seen him secure his position as the undisputed hero of Cardiff.

In fact, his 24 appearances throughout 2016/17 was the most he’s made in a single season since 2012/13. A quite remarkable feat considering the physical demands that professional rugby exerts on a modern player’s body, something that will have increased noticeably even throughout Filise’s career.

Filise 2.jpg
Scoring his first try since 2011 against the Ospreys

Ask any member of the Cardiff Blues senior squad who the strongest member of the squad is though, and the answer is guaranteed to be Fa’ao. Physical condition maintained by a work ethic that can only serve as the best possible example for our younger players.

To underline just how long he’s been around there are two quite remarkable statistics. Firstly, when the King of Tonga, as he is affectionately known, was substituted against Gloucester during April’s Challenge Cup quarter-final, his replacement in Kieron Assiratti was just nine years old when Filise joined the Cardiff Blues in 2006.

Secondly, and this is extraordinary, Fa’ao Filise has played in 53.6% of all Cardiff Blues matches since the 2003 regional re-brand. Over half of games have seen his name on the team sheet.

With 241 appearances to his name the tighthead is far and away the most-capped player since 2003, the only member of the 200 club and will very likely break the 250-cap barrier at some point next season, barring any injury disaster. That will be a special occasion.

Filise 4
Celebrating his 2015/16 testimonial season, a rarity to see him with a microphone!

If there’s one thing a CAP crowd loves it’s a trier, and Filise embodies that, putting his body on the line to scrummage, tackle and carry whenever he is called upon. Just getting on with his job in a quiet, self-deprecating manner that makes you want to say ‘aww’ to a 40 year old, 19st, 6ft+ Tongan rugby player.

With Anton Peikrishvili, Dillon Lewis and Kieron Assiratti there will be plenty of competition for a place in the matchday squad next season, but as the man himself told WalesOnline in his only interview to date, “I know I am the oldest player, but there is always a lot of young players coming up and they make me feel young.”

The day that Filise decides to call time on his rugby career will be one of great sadness, no doubt, and he will leave a very sizeable hole around the club, but there will always be a home from home at CAP for the big man.

A place in Cardiff Rugby history is cemented for Fa’ao Filise, one of the undoubted legends to have graced the Arms Park pitch. All hail the King of Tonga!

You can buy your ‘King of Tonga’ t-shirts here to celebrate the big man, with all proceeds going to the Stay Strong For Ows campaign.

Filise 6

Cardiff Blues top seeds in Europe

The pool draws for the 2017/18 European rugby season will take place on Thursday in Neuchatel, Switzerland and Cardiff Blues have been seeded in tier one for the Challenge Cup draw.

A seventh place finish in last season’s Guinness Pro12 sees Danny Wilson’s men the highest ranking side from the league qualify for the second tier European competition, joining their English and French counterparts, Stade Francais and Newcastle Falcons, as the top seeded sides.

Stade Francais
Cardiff missed out on Champions Cup qualification after a play-off loss to Stade

 

With five sides needed per tier there will a preliminary draw to complete the ranking system that will see the second highest ranking sides from each league be drawn into either the top or second tier, while the fourth highest ranked sides from each league will be drawn into either the second or third tier.

Tier 1 Newcastle Falcons (1 AP) Cardiff Blues (1 Pro12) Stade Français (1 Top 14) (2 TBC) (2 TBC)
Tier 2 (2 TBC) Sale Sharks (3 AP) Edinburgh (3 Pro12) Pau (3 Top 14) (4 TBC)
Tier 3 (4 TBC) (4 TBC) London Irish (5 AP) Bordeaux (5 Top 14) Zebre (5 Pro 12)
Tier 4 Toulouse (6 Top 14) Oyonnax (7 Top 14) Agen (8 Top 14) Enisey-STM (CS 1) Krasny Yar (CS 2)

Second ranking teams; Brive, Gloucester and Connacht

Fourth ranking teams; Lyon, Worcester and Newport Gwent Dragons

There will be five pools of four teams, with each pool having one team from each league, although some pools will have more than one French team.

This means that Cardiff Blues’ potential opponents list looks something like this;

  1. Cardiff Blues
  2. Sale/Pau/Brive/Gloucester/Worcester/Lyon
  3. London Irish/Bordeaux/Lyon/Worcester
  4. Toulouse/Oyonnax/Agen/Enisey-STM/Krasny Yar

With the one team per league ruling for tiers one through three, if Cardiff draw a French team from tier two then we can only draw an English team from tier three, and vice versa.

Also, after the preliminary draw takes place it will be a lot clearer who our opponents may be as potentially both Brive and Gloucester could be in the same tier as us, while Lyon and Worcester will be in just one of tier two and three.

Gloucester
Gloucester ended the Blues’ Challenge Cup campaign in last year’s quarter-finals

 

The 2017/18 European rugby pool draws will be broadcast live on the EPCR website from 13:00 on Thursday, with the Challenge Cup likely to follow the Champions Cup. If you are not in a position to watch on the website, I will live tweet the draw and potential outcomes as they unfold, follow me @CardiffRugbyWeb

Check back here on Thursday evening for a full rundown of Cardiff Blues’ opponents as the new season edges slightly closer, and let me know in the comments or Twitter which trips you fancy.

Challenge Cup
The 2017/18 Challenge Cup starts on Thursday

 

 

Class of 2016: Where are they now?

Last summer saw an incredible 21 players head out of the Arms Park for pastures new as Danny Wilson marked his first summer in the job by having a big clear out of some dead wood at the club, as well as aiming to dramatically cut the size of his playing squad.

With destinations as diverse as Merthyr and Hong Kong, let’s find out how the 2016 leavers have got on in the last 12 months.

Rhys Patchell

Starting with the biggest news to come from last summer, the departure of the local boy down west to join the Scarlets. It was a move that divided the fan base, with some still critical of Cardiff for allowing Patch to move on, while others rating Gareth Anscombe as a better 10 and respecting the former Glantaf’s wish to further his career at fly-half rather than full-back.

Patchell has had a moderately successful season on a personal level at Parc y Scarlets, making 21 appearances and scoring 201 points, but missing out on the middle of the year thanks to injury. He did however receive a Pro12 Final winner’s medal in May as the Scarlets defeated Munster in Dublin to lift the trophy, and will stay next season in the hope of winning more silverware.

Rhys Patchell.jpg
Rhys Patchell is a Pro12 winner

Richard Smith and Tom Williams

Also receiving Pro12 winner’s medals were wing duo Smith and Williams who travelled with Patchell down to Scarlets last summer.

They’ve had slightly less individual success than the fly-half though, with Williams making just five Pro12 and European appearances, and three in the Anglo-Welsh Cup, scoring four tries along the way, while Smith was solely restricted to Anglo-Welsh games, spending most of the season with Llandovery in the Premiership.

The departures of DTH van der Merwe and Liam Williams might offer up more opportunities for the former Cardiff duo, but if not, Richard Smith is definitely welcome back to the Arms Park any time!

Richard Smith.jpg
The legendary Richard Smith has featured much in scarlet

Sam Hobbs and Tom Davies

Cardiff Blues produced loosehead duo Hobbs and Davies were released to join Newport Gwent Dragons at the end of last season, and have formed an important part of our neighbours scrum this year, battling away to a combined 45 appearances.

Hobbs has made the majority of the starts, with Davies acting as the backup mostly, and both have been retained by the Dragons as they move into Welsh Rugby Union ownership.

Craig Mitchell

Welsh international prop Mitchell also headed across to Rodney Parade last summer after two seasons in Cardiff, but was blighted by the same fitness problems that stunted his Arms Park career. He made just two starts, one each in the Pro12 and the Anglo-Welsh Cup, and has now been released with the Welsh Premiership a likely destination.

Craig Mitchell
Craig Mitchell has been released by NGD

Gavin Evans

Staying in Wales, but out of the professional game, Gavin Evans was released after seven seasons with the Blues last summer, heading to Welsh Premiership side Neath where he will likely finish his career.

Playing mainly at inside centre, but also covering fly-half towards the end of the season, Evans led the Welsh All Blacks to the lower tier Premiership final, eventually losing out to Newport.

Chris Dicomidis and Geraint Walsh

The two Pontypridd players both moved back to their Premiership club, having been picked up during the semi-pro recruitment drive that Cardiff Blues carried out, after things not working out at the professional level.

Unfortunately Walsh suffered a serious leg break and ankle ligament damage in pre-season, ruling him out for the season, but Dicomidis was able to feature more as Pontypridd made it to the National Cup final and Premiership semi-final, losing out in both.

Both players will stay to form the experienced backbone of the Sardis Road side next season in the face of financial problems.

Chris Dicomidis
Chris Dicomidis is back at Sardis Road

Rhys Williams and Gareth Davies

Sir Stan Thomas flexed his spending muscles last summer, picking up both Williams and Davies from the Blues, with both players helping the Ironmen to winning the Premiership final at the first time of asking after being promoted to the top division last summer, and both will stay next season at The Wern.

Elis Wyn Benham

Perhaps the second most surprising departure, after Rhys Patchell, was the Wales U20 wing Benham who had only featured in the U20 Six Nations some three months prior to being released, and had starred for the Cardiff Blues Premiership Select side in the British and Irish Cup.

Sir Stan splashed out for the highly rated youngster, but unfortunately ongoing injury problems have seriously restricted his playing time this season, and there are suggestions he has signed for Ebbw Vale ahead of next year.

Lou Reed

The big second row initially left Wales last summer, signing a two-year deal with Sale Sharks. However, after just two Anglo-Welsh Cup appearances he was released at the beginning of February, subsequently signing for Merthyr and winning the Premiership with the Ironmen.

There is a suggestion he may now have departed The Wern, but no confirmation on what the former Scarlet’s plans are next.

Lou Reed
Lou Reed was released from his Sale contract

Owen Jenkins, Ben Roach and Adam Thomas

Also staying in Wales was this trio who signed up with the WRU on full-time 7s contracts. All featured heavily in the World Sevens Series this season as Wales won the Trophy in Vancouver and Singapore, but may well be concerned over plans to create a Great Britain 7s team to replace separate England, Scotland and Wales sides from the season after next.

Owen Jenkins
Owen Jenkins has had a full season with Wales 7s

Harry Davies

Young winger Davies was a somewhat surprise departure last summer, given his size and speed drawing comparisons to a young Alex Cuthbert, but he packed off over the Severn to join Bath’s academy.

Illness impeded his progress throughout the first half of the season, before he made his Bath debut in the Anglo-Welsh Cup in January and an Aviva Premiership bow against Harlequins in February, going on to make a handful of appearances. He will stay with Bath next season and hopefully stay fit for the whole season.

Harry Davies
Harry Davies recovered from illness to feature for Bath

Miles Normandale

Another younger player heading to England was the former UWIC student who never really made an impact at Cardiff after joining full-time after graduating.

He headed to Rotherham in the Championship where he was part of the Titans side that finished bottom of English rugby’s second tier. With no sign of Normandale on their website it appears he may have been released from the Yorkshire side, possibly following Justin Burnell back to Wales.

Jevon Groves and Tommy Isaacs

Onto the players heading further afield after their release last summer, and the former 7s players Groves and Isaacs both made the move to Hong Kong for this season, initially to different locations.

Isaacs made the move to Hong Kong FC’s rugby section after two tries in 20 Cardiff appearances, combining playing with starting a career that utilised his engineering degree from Cardiff University.

Groves, who only made one substitute appearance during his time at the Arms Park, made the move East to become Hong Kong 7s assistant coach, however signed with Hong Kong FC as well just before the domestic season started, and joined Isaacs in helping the side to a fourth placed finish. Both players are likely to stay in HK for the foreseeable future.

Tommy Isaacs
Tommy Isaacs is juggling rugby with work in Hong Kong

Manoa Vosawai

The final player to move abroad last summer was Italian international Vosawai, who made the move to ProD2 side Vannes as Nick Williams joined Cardiff Blues. The number eight has featured heavily in Northern France, even making Midi’s ProD2 team of the week on a few occasions.

Vosawai was posting highlights clips on YouTube just a few months ago though, consistent with a player on the look out for a new club ahead of next season.

Manoa Vosawai
Manoa Vosawai may be on the move this summer

The Cardiff Blues squad is close to being confirmed for 2017/18, with just five senior departures expected, as well as around eight academy players moving. Keep an eye out over the coming weeks on the site for a full squad list and the team report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cardiff Blues summer international preview

So, another season has come and gone, and we find ourselves once again counting down to the start of another campaign filled with hopes and dreams just waiting to be crushed.

Before we enter the wilderness of the off-season though, there is a packed programme of summer international rugby to come, where the Junior World Championships and annual national team summer tests are joined by the British and Irish Lions tour to New Zealand.

Despite some dreadful form there is still plenty of Cardiff Blues representation around the globe over the next month, so let’s find out who is heading where.

B&I Lions

It was a massively proud moment for the club when Sam Warburton was selected to captain the historic touring side, becoming only the second man to receive that honour twice.

It continues a long tradition of Cardiff Rugby providing players to the Lions, and cements Sam’s place on the list of world rugby greats.

Unfortunately only Gethin Jenkins was in with a shout of joining Sam from the Arms Park but he was not selected, and injury has since ended hopes of being called up as an injury replacement, but there’s no doubt that Warburton will represent the Blues superbly while facing the almighty challenge of touring New Zealand.

June 3 – New Zealand Provincial Barbarians v British & Irish Lions

June 7 – Auckland Blues v British & Irish Lions

June 10 – Crusaders v British & Irish Lions

June 13 – Highlanders v British & Irish Lions

June 17 – Maori All Blacks v British & Irish Lions

June 20 – Chiefs v British & Irish Lions

June 24 – British & Irish Lions v New Zealand – 1st Test match

June 27 – Hurricanes v British & Irish Lions

July 1 – British & Irish Lions v New Zealand – 2nd Test Match

July 8 – British & Irish Lions v British & Irish Lions – 3rd Test Match

*All games kick-off at 8:35am and are broadcast live on Sky Sports

Sam Warburton Lions
Sam Warburton will be looking to make amends after injury ended his last tour

Team Wales

While the Lions are in New Zealand what’s left of the Welsh management and player setup will be heading to the Southern Hemisphere too, as they prepare for a two-test series against Samoa and Tonga, with a charity training match against Rygbi Gogledd Cymru set-up beforehand.

There will be Cardiff Blues representation on the coaching staff, as attack coach Matt Sherratt goes on tour, but he won’t be joined by Danny Wilson, who admirably pulled out of joining the Wales management team to put Cardiff Blues before his personal aspirations.

In terms of the playing squad there is a sizeable Cardiff contingent, with Kris Dacey, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, Gareth Anscombe, Cory Allen and Alex Cuthbert being rewarded for fine seasons, while Tomos Williams and Seb Davies getting the opportunity to win their first caps.

Dillon Lewis has been training with the Wales squad as he returns to fitness, but has not been named in the official touring party, while Rhun Williams was called up before having to pull out due to an ankle injury suffered against Stade Francais. Bother of their times will come to pull on the red jersey in the future though, there’s no doubt about it.

RGC 1404 v Wales (training match) – Friday 2nd June – 19:00 – live on S4C

Tonga v Wales – Friday 16th June – 06:30 – live on BBC Wales

Samoa v Wales – Friday 23rd June – 07:30 – TV tbc

Cuthbert Wales.jpg
Alex Cuthbert is back in Wales’ red

Samoa 

Once again Rey Lee-Lo has been called up to represent his country, and it is a big summer for Manu Samoa, who can confirm qualification for the 2019 World Cup.

Firstly they face test matches against Wales and New Zealand, before heading into this summer’s Pacific Nations Cup.

The RWC qualification for the South Sea Islands sees the top two sides from the combined 2016 and 2017 PNC qualify automatically, with third place going into a repechage.

Samoa currently sit three points ahead of Tonga in second place, which would see them join England, France and Argentina, as well as the best Americas side, but four points behind Fiji who will enter Australia, Wales, Georgia and the second American sides’ group.

Friday 16th June – New Zealand v Wales

Friday 23rd June – Samoa v Wales

Saturday 1st July – Tonga v Samoa

Saturday 15th July – Samoa v Fiji

Rey Lee-Lo Samoa
Rey Lee-Lo will represent Samoa once again

Georgia

After signing a new contract Anton Peikrishvili has headed out to join his Georgian team-mates in Tblisi before the Lelos go on tour to the Americas this summer

Saturday 10th June – Canada v Georgia

Saturday 17th June – USA v Georgia

Saturday 24th June – Argentina v Georgia

Anton Peikrishvili Georgia
Anton Peikrishvili is back in the Georgia squad

USA

A busy summer for the USA Eagles is coming up, but unfortunately they will have to make do without co-captain Blaine Scully, who has has been ruled out of playing thanks to the elbow injury picked up against Ulster. Captain America will still be in camp though, running water for the boys in another example of his team spirit.

Club team-mate, and soon to be departing, Cam Dolan is included in the squad though as the United States host tourists Georgia and Ireland before facing a two-legged play-off against Canada for a 2019 World Cup spot.

The winners will go into England, France and Argentina’s group with the runner up from the Pacific Nations Cup, while the loser will play-off against Uruguay next year for the spot in Australia, Wales, Georgia and the PNC winners’ group.

Saturday 10th June – USA v Ireland

Saturday 17th June – USA v Georgia

Saturday 24th June – Canada v USA

Saturday 1st July – USA v Canada

Cam Dolan USA
Cam Dolan is in Eagles action this summer

Wales U20

The 2017 Junior World Championships will be hosted in Georgia this summer, with Cardiff Blues academy manager Richard Hodges again acting as defence coach, while 12 academy youngsters are called up to represent their country.

Tom Mably, Rhys Carre, Eddie Drake, Kieron Assiratti, Callum Bradbury, Shane Lewis-Hughes, James Botham, Aled Ward, Dane Blacker, Ben Jones and Cameron Lewis, Owen Lane are all involved, further proof of the effectiveness that the Cardiff Blues development pathway has.

Wednesday 31st May – Wales U20 v Australia U20

Sunday 4th June – England U20 v Wales U20

Thursday 8th June – Wales U20 v Samoa U20

*All games live on S4C

Rhys Carre Wales 20
Rhys Carre will lead the Cardiff Blues charge for Wales U20s

Good luck to all Cardiff Blues players in action over the next six weeks, and check back here after it’s all done and dusted for a full report on our players involvements with their national sides before they can put their feet up ahead of pre-season.