Richie Rees says preparations have stepped up a gear, as Cardiff Blues get ready for a return to Guinness PRO14 action.
The Arms Park outfit welcomed the Dragons squad to the Welsh capital on Friday for an opposed training session, which finished with full contact match scenarios.
Following three weeks out of action, John Mulvihill’s side return to the Guinness PRO14 next week as they travel to Galway for a crucial clash against Conference B rivals, Connacht.
Rees has been encouraged by the squad’s energy in training over the last fortnight and says the full contact session was beneficial for both sides.
“We split into our units and had a hit-out on some of the attack that we’re planning against Connacht,” said the coach.
“It’s nice to have a little bit of full metal jacket at the end with a bit of full contact.
“The boys have been out of action for a couple of weeks and you have to get back up to speed before going into such a big block.
“The difficult things about these sessions is having the balance of not trying to ‘win’ the training session. That’s probably in some of the boys’ minds but we want to get the outcome right for Connacht, and vice versa the Dragons will want to get the outcome right for Benetton.
“It’s about having a fine balance and managing the physical element and the tactical element of it.
“It was good and we’ve definitely got something out of it.
“When you’ve got such a big block without a game, how do you keep the intensity going? The boys had a down-week and came back last week, and you have to start upping the intensity and there’s no way around that because it’s a confrontational game.
“You need to get some numbers and some hits into it leading into next week.
“It was a long block of 13 weeks straight and we’ll have another huge block in the run-in towards the end of the season.
“But before that we’ve got three big games coming up during the Six Nations and we’ll be targeting wins in at least two of the three games.
“It’s a big block, and that’s why we’re putting so much on the detail both technically and tactically and getting that right leading into Connacht.”
This week’s training sessions also welcomed a number of players back from injury, with Rory Thornton, Kristian Dacey, Hallam Amos, Kirby Myhill and Ioan Davies amongst those returning to the field.
Also training with the senior group were Ethan Lloyd and Mason Grady, who are both members of the academy and eligible to play for Cardiff Blues under-18.
Former Wales international Rees is delighted to welcome senior players back into the fold during the Guinness Six Nations period, and believes the academy duo will benefit from training alongside experienced squad members.
“The likes of Kirby, Dacey, Hallam are boys who we are really keen to have a bit of game time. Particularly in the backs, where we’ve been short of numbers and it’s good to get them back on the field.
“We managed the contact element of those boys and it’s about getting them back up to speed before Connacht away next Saturday.
“It’s no secret that Connacht have lost three players to the Irish set-up, while we have 10 boys missing through international duties and injuries.
“They might have a couple of those back as well and that’s what we’re dealing with.
“All Welsh regions are in the same boat during this time so it’s about managing your squad and its resources and how you set them up going into the games.
“It’s been perfect for both Ethan and Mason to come into the set-up. We actually name-dropped Mason in a team meeting prior to the training session as he’s been very good since coming in.
“He’s still eligible for Wales under-18, but it’s about giving these boys opportunities.
“We’re not blessed with resource, so the more experience they can get training at this level, the better it will be for both them and us in the future.”