Blues win Welsh round of Premiership Sevens

Cardiff Blues claimed top spot at the Premiership Sevens evening at the Arms Park on Friday, knocking out title-holders Newport Gwent Dragons in the process.

The Ospreys will also progress to next month’s final in Coventry as runners-up.

Blues left it late to beat their east-Wales rivals in the thrilling final game of the evening, with 18-year-old flyer Dane Blacker producing a scintillating match-winning performance.

The clock was already red when Blacker crossed for the decisive touchdown – his second of the game. He told the Blues website: “I can’t get over it. Just to represent Cardiff Blues at this level, so young is a massive honour for me and to go on to win the tournament is even better.”

Of next month’s final, he said: “It will be a massive challenge going up to Coventry, the English clubs are always good but I’m backing the boys and think we can do well.”

Some of the Blues’ stars from Friday’s victory will be missing for the Coventry trip, as they link up with Wales under-18s, but there is no doubting confidence is high at the region, with the signs looking good for the future.

Saturday’s Group B fixtures saw Exeter Chiefs and Wasps join Blues and Ospreys in the final, with the Group C and Group D fixtures taking place this weekend.

The Welsh regions have been a very successful addition to this great tournament, and I hope to see Wales’ Capital Region make it all the way!

Moving on to the Olympic Games, I’ve just been checking out the schedule information for the Team GB Rugby 7s matches which I am so excited about! Rugby’s return to the Olympics is long overdue in my opinion, and I think it will be a resounding success! Team GB Women’s team are drawn alongside Canada, Japan and hosts Brazil in their pool, with the action kicking off on Saturday 6th August. GB Men’s team then begin their campaign on Tuesday 9th August, in a pool that also features Kenya, Japan and New Zealand.

With such fond memories of the London Olympics in 2012 – where Emily and I were fortunate enough to get tickets for the basketball and the beach volleyball competitions – I am so excited for this fantastic world event to be held in the wonderful backdrop of Rio de Janeiro. If the atmosphere of London 2012 was anything to go by, the next month will play host to a wonderful carnival of sport, and a celebration of human triumph.

Good luck to Team GB

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Summer of Sevens

An exciting month of sevens rugby lies ahead, with Premiership Sevens kicking off at Cardiff Arms Park this Friday. This will be the third time the welsh regions have competed in the tournament, with two sides guaranteed to qualify for the August finals in Coventry. The Newport Gwent Dragons go into the showpiece event as defending champions, having beaten Gloucester in last year’s final.

This year’s tournament will provide the perfect backdrop for the Olympic Games, which – incredibly – features rugby for the first time since the 1920s.

It should come as little surprise. The World Sevens series has gone from strength to strength in the past decade, taking its vibrant brand of high-tempo and entertaining rugby across the globe and establishing itself in some of the World’s most colourful and desirable locations (Hong Kong, Cape Town, Las Vegas). It’s profile continues to grow at pace. Footage I’ve seen at some of the tournament make it look like a carnival, a celebration of the sport. The speed at which the game is played and the often high-scoring nature of the matches means it has the potential to appeal to wider audiences, and not just the rugby purists. All the while, it retains the core values of teamwork and respect for which rugby (for the most part) prides itself. In short, it’s the perfect Olympic sporting event!

The make-up of Team GB’s sevens squad is yet to be determined, although news broke yesterday that Bridgend’s Luke Morgan, of Wales Sevens, has picked up a knee injury, ruling him out of the tournament. With so many hugely talented players across the home nations, I hope to see Team GB in the mix for a medal, although I know we have been drawn alongside the might All Blacks in the group stages. They – like us – have several 15-a-side players vying for a place in the team, with the likes of Sonny Bill Williams hoping to make his presence known in Rio.

A Letter in Rugby World!

Today I opened the latest issue of Rugby World magazine to find that one of my comments from their Facebook page, from a few weeks back, has been included on the letters page!

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I’m so happy! I’ve been an avid reader of Rugby World for many years (thank you Lucy and Chris for subscribing to it for me!) and this is the first time I’ve had anything published in the magazine.

The comment points to the superb performances of Taulupe Faletau during Wales’ recent tour to New Zealand. He is undoubtedly one of the most consistent and hard-working players in the British Isles at present, proving himself quite a handful even for the All Blacks’ defence, and I sincerely hope he features prominently for the British and Irish Lions this time next year.

Thank you, Rugby World!

 

Has Football overtaken Rugby as Wales’ National Sport?

There’s bound to be many articles out there comparing the contrasting fortunes of Wales’ rugby and football teams from this summer. As the dust settles on (what I consider to have been) a disastrous tour of New Zealand for the rugby team, Wales football is preparing for its first even semi-final appearance in a major tournament. Therefore, I have to ask – is football now the national sport of Wales? Does it really matter either way? And, what more can be done to ensure the long term survival and prosperity of rugby in Wales?

The last month has been a pleasure for Welsh sports fans like myself. It’s been an enjoyable and fascinating experience witnessing the good natured support of Welsh football fans – and that of many other nations, for that matter – who are thrilled to be represented at a tournament of this calibre. The mood has been further buoyed by success on the pitch, which has seen Wales far exceed the expectations of perhaps even the most optimistic Welsh fan. Rugby’s reputation for having superb fans, with no segregation, is often seen as one of the sport’s defining characteristics. And, while there will be no plans to ditch segregation in football any time soon, it’s great to see that travelling supporters in France have been largely praised by pundits, authorities, and rival supporters alike.

With Swansea City having spent several years in the Premier League, and Cardiff City flying high in the Championship after a poor spell in the Premier League themselves, it seems it was only a matter of time before relative club success translated onto the international scene. Too much time, some Welsh football fans might argue! Indeed, my Dad would have absolutely loved to have witnessed his beloved Bluebirds reach the Premier League, and I dare say he’d have applied for his first ever passport with the knowledge that Wales had reached the Euros.

It’s interesting to note that I understand only two of the current Wales squad play Premier League football inside Wales. (I apologise if this statistic is incorrect – I am the Welsh rugby man, after all!) To me, this points to great, careful selection on a coaching front and – very importantly – a very strong Championship competition, capable of nurturing players of the highest standard. The League’s second tier is a brutal competition; fiercely contested and relentless, only the strongest of teams finish top of the pile to earn their place amongst the Premiership’s elite.

Domestic rugby in Wales faces a challenge to compete with competitions as strong as this. For a start, the Pro12 has no promotion and relegation which, in my opinion, is the true element of sport. It gives teams something to fight for. Without a league structure that leads right through to elite level, there is a danger that the professional teams in Wales could be left floundering. The Welsh Premiership has itself been expanded, then ringfenced for three years from next season, in a bid to increase standards.

It has to be said that Wales’ national rugby team has definitely been punching above its weight since the introduction of the regions, with only the Ospreys performing consistently in the domestic league, and none of the teams regularly pushing for European honours. Without excellence at regional level, it’s only a matter of time until the national team suffers. One can only hope that every effort is being made to help support and encourage the most talented players we have to stay in Wales, right through from grass-roots level to playing at one of the regions, and then for the national team. The dual Club/Country contracts have certainly helped in this area. It’s also important that the coaches at the regions know they have a responsibility to get the best from these teams and these players, and that they know they are a vital stepping stone to the success of our national team. Standards certainly need to be raised after the disappointments of the 2015/16 season.

So, has football overtaken rugby in Wales? The truth is, it’s too early to tell. Perhaps that really depends on what successes come our way in the next year or so.

For now, rugby takes some down time, while Wales football roar into their semi-final meeting with Portugal this evening. History beckons! Good luck lads!