It’s the final part of the Team Report at last! In case you’ve missed any of the other positions over the last few weeks here’s the links;
So we’ve gone from the big boys and we’ve reached the quick boys at the back, and it’s certainly a good time to watch the outside backs at the Arms Park.
We start with the star of the CAP turf/plastic over the past few years, Cardiff and Wales winger Alex Cuthbert. Since breaking into the first team, Cuthy has become a real fan favourite in Cardiff, and gone on to perform at the highest level for Wales and the British Lions. After studying and playing at Hartpury College, Cuthbert moved onto UWIC, as it was then, before being picked up by Cardiff RFC in the 2010/11 season. Despite only scoring two tries in four blue and black appearances, Cuthy started the first game of the 2011/12 Blues season and made a try scoring debut, which set the tone for him to go on and get 14 tries in 19 in his first season. He also made his Wales bow that year against Australia in the autumn, before scoring three tries as the Grand Slam was won. Over the next two seasons, Cuthbert scored 15 Cardiff tries in 31 appearances, as well as helping Wales to the 2013 Six Nations title with a brace against England in that famous 30-3 victory. However, this last year has been a tough one for the big winger, with only four tries in 18 games, three of which came in the games against bottom side Zebre, and the form struggle hasn’t only been seen in a blue shirt, with just one try in his last nine for Wales leading to him losing his place in the starting XV ahead of the World Cup. When he returns from the tournament, Cuthbert will have a lot of form recovering to do in Cardiff.
Ahead of this season, and perhaps with Cuthbert’s poor form in mind, the management have recruited two new additions to the back three ranks, in the familiar face of Tom James, and the somewhat unknown quantity of Blaine Scully. Of course, Tom James needs little introduction to any Cardiff rugby fan with half a memory. Having broken into the first team in 2006, aged 19, before scoring 11 tries in 16 games during 2007/08, he made his Wales debut in the same season, going on to win 10 caps until 2010, the absence only being broken by a surprise World Cup training squad call-up at the start of the summer, although injury put an end to that. After scoring 39 tries in 117 games, James left CAP for Exeter in 2013, but after two seasons at Sandy Park, he returns as still the holder of Cardiff Blues top try scorer and with the intention of properly breaking back into Gatland’s side. Someone who doesn’t need to break into any National sides, however, is new signing, and USA vice-captain, Blaine Scully. Joining fellow American, Cam Dolan, and former American high performance manager, Billy Millard, in Cardiff, Scully will be looking to really make his mark in European rugby. Having started his career in U.S. Colleges, he moved onto the Sevens circuit with the national team, before signing for Leicester on a trial basis. He impressed enough on the back of a try scoring debut to earn a full-time contact and joins Cardiff on the back of six tries in 34 games for the Tigers. Blaine is a strong runner and has plenty of experience with two World Cups under his belt, and will be sure to provide plenty of competition in the back three.
Also looking to compete in the outside backs are a pair of somewhat Cardiff rugby stalwarts now, in Richard Smith and Dan Fish. With Fish on 62 appearances, and Smith eight off his half century, both have been integral parts of the Blues squad over the past few years, especially when it comes to International windows. Both have come via Cardiff RFC, Fish from the academy, while Smith arrived from Neath RFC via Australia. Both also share Wales Sevens experience and can each cover two positions, Dan Fish at full-back or wing, and Rich Smith at centre or wing. Playing styles wise, Smith is a powerful runner and strong defender, while Fish has pace to burn, and a handy left boot. With the number of international backs increasing, both will have a big part to play in any Cardiff rugby successes over the coming years.
Looking to play a part alongside them are the academy graduate duo of Aled Summerhill and Owen Jenkins. As mentioned in the Centre section of the Team Report, Summerhill won last season’s Welsh Premiership Player of the Year and can play in midfield as well as in the back three. He played predominantly at full-back last season at Pontypridd, but I’d imagine will probably appear mostly on the wing at the Arms Park this season as he adjusts to pro rugby, kind of Leigh Halfpenny style. Challenging him for a spot on the wing will be fellow Ponty loannee Owen Jenkins. At 22, Owen is now getting to the stage where he needs to be playing regular XV-a-side rugby, if that’s the direction he wants to go after spending some time with Wales Sevens. With only eight senior appearances and no tries to his name so far, 2015/16 could be a massive year for Owen Jenkins.
The good thing for Danny Wilson inheriting this side is that there are lots of options in the back three as we have plenty of utility backs. Gareth Anscombe and Rhys Patchell are both equally adept at full-back from fly-half, Cory Allen and Tommy Isaacs can step out onto the wing from centre, and both Geraint Walsh and Adam Thomas can switch between full-back and midfield.
In fact, we’ve got so many options in the backs we can even let one go as Tom Williams heads off to Scarlets on a season long loan. Tom, brother of Lloyd, has only managed to make 22 appearances so far, but has been travelling a lot with Wales Sevens. The quick winger scored 18 tries in 41 games for Cardiff RFC, and will hope a full season down West will put him in good stead to compete for a starting spot next season.
The production line of outside backs continues as well, with Harry Davies and Elis Wyn Benham both coming through the blue and blacks team this season. Both are different in their styles, with 5ft7 Benham bringing the pace and quick feet, while 6ft4, 16st Davies has the power. Both have big futures ahead on the wings of the Arms Park, and hopefully for Wales one day as well.
A good time to be a backs coach at Cardiff with Alex Cuthbert and Tom James, the leading Blues try scorers in the ranks, alongside the new blood of Blaine Scully and exciting young talent of Aled Summerhill and Owen Jenkins. I guess the only problem is fitting them all in? Not a bad problem to have though, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Danny Wilson and co work it out.