Cardiff Blues can confirm their pre-season plans, and John Mulvihill believes the Celtic Cup will be vital to his preparations, as it offers an opportunity to hand squad members some valuable playing time ahead of the new Guinness PRO14 campaign.
Wales’ Capital Region’s ‘A’ team get their campaign underway on August 24, welcoming defending champions Leinster A to the Cardiff Arms Park. Dragons, Connacht and Scarlets will also feature at the Welsh capital, while there are trips to take on Ulster, Ospreys and Munster.
The home derby against Dragons A in particular will see both sides fielding established first team players, alongside young and exciting talent, as they build towards the new season.
Mulvihill’s side will take on Mike Rayer’s Bedford Blues at Goldington Road on September 14 - before returning to competitive action against Isuzu Southern Kings on September 28 - but the head coach believes the ‘A’ team competition will serve a purpose as pre-season fixtures.
The Australian said: “Because of the World Cup, and a lot of boys being away, the Celtic Cup will give the Welsh and Irish teams a leg-up in the preparations because we’ll essentially use two of those games as our warm-up games.
“Previously we would’ve used big squads in games, like you saw against Leicester and Exeter last season, and we probably had too many players out there.
“Some of the boys who need game-time will feature in the A team game against Leinster at the Arms Park on August 24, which is the opening game of the competition.
“Pontypridd and Cardiff face each other on that Friday night as well, and a number of our players will play in that game as well.
“On Saturday, 7 September, the Dragons A team come here for a Celtic Cup fixture, which is also the day Summerfest is held at the Arms Park.
“I’ve spoken to Dean Ryan about using that game to give some of our experienced guys a run-out in that game, which will be exciting for the fans, while also exposing some of our younger guys.
“A week later, we’ll have a squad of around 26 players heading up to Bedford for a pre-season fixture which will be our final rehearsal before the Kings in the opening game of the Guinness PRO14.
“A lot of our first team boys will have minutes in that game, because the following Saturday we’ll be getting on the plane to fly out to Cape Town and we’ll start our preparations on the Monday.”
The second week of pre-season wraps up this week, with the entire squad heading to London for an opposed training session against London Scottish, whose head coach is former Cardiff Blues defence coach, Graham Steadman.
Mulvihill has been delighted with the effort, attitude and standard shown by his side during pre-season and looks forward to the trip to the English capital, which will also have an opportunity to engage with the Welsh community at Old Deere Park.
“We’ll have an opposed training session against London Scottish on Friday. Myself, Richard Hodges and four players will be heading up on Thursday to hold a coaching clinic at London Welsh, and the whole squad will follow us up on the Friday,” said Mulvihill.
“The whole squad will travel, but we’ll probably pick a squad of 28 playing members, who will do 20 minutes of warm-up, 30 minutes of opposed units and 30 minutes of opposed attack and defence.
“We’ll be looking at our game from try-line to halfway. We’ll have time to focus on scoring tries later on, but it’ll be about coming out with our exits and controlling the middle-third of the pitch, which is our work-on from last season.
“We have a night over there to get the group together before having a week-long break following a tough block of training where the boys have worked extremely hard.”
Entry for Cardiff Blues' home Celtic Cup pool stage games are included in Season Membership packages, with details regarding general sale tickets to be announced later this week.
Cardiff Blues A's home game against Dragons A on September 7 will be played as part of Summerfest, and included with an entry for the event.
Celtic Cup 2019/2020
Saturday, August 24, KO 14.30 (Cardiff Arms Park)
Cardiff Blues A v Leinster A
Saturday, August 31, KO 19.30 (Malone RFC)
Ulster A v Cardiff Blues A
Saturday, September 7, KO 15.30 (Cardiff Arms Park)
Cardiff Blues A v Dragons A
Friday, September 13, KO 19.15 (Brewery Field, Bridgend)
Ospreys Development v Cardiff Blues A
Friday, September 20, KO 18.00 (Irish Independent Park, Cork)
Munster A v Cardiff Blues A
Saturday, September 28, KO 14.30 (Cardiff Arms Park)
Cardiff Blues A v Connacht Eagles
Friday, October 4, KO 19.15 (Cardiff Arms Park)
Cardiff Blues A v Scarlets A