So the front row has been done here https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/22/team-report-front-row/, now it’s time to move into the second row…
In all honesty this was probably our weakest position last season, and nothing much has changed going into 2015/16. We were so short in the second row last season that our European squad didn’t have enough cover when there was a mini injury/suspension/international call-up crisis, that Scott Andrews lined up there against Rovigo. Since then we have lost arguably our best lock last season, Filo Paulo, to Treviso, but it says something when this isn’t even a massive loss for the club.
By rights our best second row should be Jarrad Hoeata. The New Zealander joined at the start of last season in the ‘Mark Hammett revolution’, with 66 Taranaki games, 57 Super Rugby appearances for the Chiefs and Highlanders, and three All Black caps under his belt. However, despite a solid start to the season, Hoeata never really kicked on, and encountered some disciplinary issues with yellow cards coming against Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a high tackle on Rob Kearney earning him a red card against Leinster, followed by a slightly harsh six week ban. Despite these infractions, Hoeata did still make 18 appearances in all competitions and certainly showed glimpses of his quality with some strong defensive performances, decent ball carrying and a willingness to put his body on the line. Perhaps in a more organised defensive system under Graham Steadman and a better pack he will get to that extra level, and at only 31 he still has time to become a Blues stalwart over the next few years.
Behind Hoeata it is not an exaggeration to say we’re seriously struggling. Competing for the spot as second best lock are the Chuckle Brothers of the second row world, Lou Reed and Chris Dicomidis. In doing a bit of homework for this article I actually found out something quite shocking, that Dicomidis will only turn 30 at the start of this season, and Reed will only be 28! I mean, starting with Reed, the bloke lumbers around the pitch like he’s a 30+ year old veteran coming towards the end of a tough career. He made 10 starts and two substitute appearances last year, yet it would be a challenge for anyone to remember when he put in a really good performance, or did anything even remotely memorable. Then with Dicomidis, he is a prime example of how poor the quality of the Welsh Premiership is, and how big the gap between that and the pro game has become. After 10 years with Pontypridd and becoming Club Captain in 2010, Dico made the step up to the Blues full time in 2013 and after a moderately promising start, including a fairly impressive performance away at rich French bully boys Toulon. However, those initial surprise performances became a thing of the past pretty quickly, and last year Dicomidis only made four Pro12 appearances, and fair to say his Welsh Premiership past led to him struggling with the skill set required to play Mark Hammett’s brand of Southern Hemisphere rugby, a style of which I firmly believe we should be trying to play.
Joining Hoeata and the Chuckle Brothers in the senior second row ranks is the somewhat unknown quantity that is new signing Cameron Dolan. The most recent part of Billy Millard’s attempts to remind us he once was involved in United States rugby, Dolan arrives having only made one senior appearance in two years for Northampton as far as I can work out, although is still being pitched to us as a promising player. Although he is able to play in the back row, I can only imagine he will be mainly considered at lock due to the lack of any depth, and at 6ft6 he will be an asset at the lineout, along with an 18st frame he will hopefully make a few yards with the ball in hand. With 10 international caps for the US and still only 25, one can only pray the Florida native adds some much needed quality to our second row options.
Behind the senior second rows there are two youngsters (of sorts) waiting to breakthrough. Despite being 24 at the start of next season, Miles Normandale is still coming through the ranks after only joining the Cardiff set up at the start of 2013 from UWIC. However, after making 31 appearances in two seasons for Cardiff RFC, and seven Cardiff Blues appearances and making his Pro12 debut, he will be looking to kick on at professional level in 2015/16. Seb Davies is the real youngster of the pair at just 19, but his future his big on terms of potential and size, with the Whitchurch lad already standing at 6ft5 and weighing 17 stone. To go with his stature, Davies has come off the back of a Welsh Premiership winning season with Pontypridd, and recently appeared in all of Wales U20’s Junior World Championship matches, scoring tries against Japan and Ireland. Davies also made his Blues debut this year in the LV Cup against Scarlets, and formed a good partnership with Normandale away at Wasps, where late tried from each helped Cardiff to a remarkable comeback victory. It’s possible a partnership was born that day, one which may well be seen more in the new Cardiff Blues A side playing in the British and Irish Cup next year.
Conclusion: A real lack of strength in depth here, or any sort of quality at all. Jarrad Hoeata staying fit and continuing to adapt to the Northern Hemisphere game will be key, while Cam Dolan’s progress will be interesting to watch. What I really would like to see happen is either Macauley Cook or Josh Turnbull used primarily as a second row this season, especially with the abundance of talent we possess at the back of the scrum, however this will be scrutinised more in the next instalment of the Team Report, finishing the forwards with the back row.