How many of the Welsh professional teams would leave a 29 year-old player, who is 15-times Welsh capped and played at the top level in the Celtic League and Aviva Premiership, on the bench for a 38 year-old veteran, who realistically hasn’t been at his best for five years? Well Cardiff Blues would of course!
Ever since he arrived in Cardiff during the summer of 2014, Craig Mitchell has played a very bit-part role. There were clearly some fitness issues when he first joined, as he made just four appearances before last Christmas, all off the bench. Things did improve a bit though as he started four games towards the end of the season, not bad conisdering he was competing with legendary tighthead Adam Jones.
Since then though, Adam has moved onto Harlequins for a final payday/swansong, leaving the starting tighthead berth up for grabs. Mitchell came on at half-time against Zebre in the season opener, before going on to start all four games in Ireland, performing at an expected level in all fairness. His scrummaging is good, and he is mobile enough to support open play with ball carrying and at the breakdown. Upon returning from Ireland however, he found himself a half-time substitute again against Zebre, before only briefly appearing off the bench against Glasgow and Calvisano.
So who is good enough to keep Mitchell out of the team? Well it certainly isn’t Tau Filise, but the Tongan it is who has been playing. Now, I don’t want to appear too harsh on Filise, he will go down in Cardiff history as the most capped player in the professional era, and the first to make 200 appearances. However, every dog has their day and all that, and Filise has certainly had his. At 38 he is beyond the twilight of his career, but still he puts his body on the line every week. You can’t fault his passion, but when your body just can’t perform anymore, it’s better to just jack it in.
Filise’s time has come and gone, now is the time for Mitchell to be given the official mantra of starting tighthead, and given a fair shot alongisde Dacey and Gethin Jenkins up front. With Dillon Lewis really pushing for a shot in the senior side as well, there isn’t a need for 38 year-old Filise to be clogging up squad places. Danny Wilson has talked about cutting back the squad, well I think I know where he should start.
I’ll finish this with the text I received from a mate during the Harlequins game. “For the 4th consecutive year I’m asking myself, ‘I thought Filise retired at the end of last season?'”