The fourth and last in-season instalment of the Cardiff Blues 2015/16 transfer saga comes over two months since the last, and it’s been two busy months indeed. With no less than four signings, two new contracts and seven players moving on, let’s get straight into it.
Comings and Goings: Part One – https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/12/17/comings-and-goings/
Comings and Goings: Part Two – https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/comings-and-goings-part-two/
Comings and Goings: Part Three –https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/12/comings-and-goings-part-three/
We shall start with the news of those players staying, and it’s two good pieces of news as far as I’m concerned. First up we have Alex Cuthbert eventually signing on for another two years as a Cardiff player. The Wales winger turned down a National Dual Contract (NDC) in December last year and once previous to that as well, a brave move but one that suggested at the time he had his eyes on a move abroad, with Worcester strongly linked as well as a host of French sides.
However, he has now chosen to stay in our capital for at least another two years, crediting Danny Wilson and the environment at Cardiff for his signing. Although he will miss the rest of this season through injury I think a fully fit Cuthbert will be a real asset to the side next year. Many have doubted his form over the past two years, but the truth is at neither club or international level has he had any decent ball. Cuthy lives for a two yard gap on the touchline, not the midfield donkey work, and the way we are playing running rugby right now he will be back battling Tom James for top try scorer in no time.
Joining Alex Cuthbert next season staying in blue will be someone who I actually can’t picture without a Cardiff shirt on, and I don’t even know the Cardiff Blues without him in the squad. Taufa’ao Filise has signed yet another one-year contract extension keeping him at the Arms Park for his 11th season, after signing from Bath in 2006. The Tongan celebrated his testimonial year this season and is clearly showing no signs in slowing up yet.
With tightheads a little light on the ground it’s a good move from Wilson to tie Filise to another season. Only Salesi Ma’afu is a qualified senior number three that’s good enough for the top level, although Dillon Lewis is showing signs he could be the best of a generation. Not to big him up too much! Anyway, the King of Tonga adds his experience and a bit of decent Pro12 strength in depth to the ranks. Although he is contracted as a player I think Filise must spend as much time training as he does speaking to Lewis, Kieron Assirratti and younger academy tightheads, as well as other forwards. You can never learn too much.
So from those staying to those leaving and we’ve had a few announcements over the last few weeks. Having left the contract signings on the note that tightheads might be a bit short, we start the departures on Craig Mitchell heading off to Newport next season. This may be seem odd considering what I’ve said above, but when you consider that Mitchell has made just eight starts in two seasons you see why he’s been allowed to go.
It seemed a good signing at the time when the former Wales international arrived from Exeter, but it’s been apparent that Mitchell has no fitness to talk of. Between injuries, being terribly unfit, and average performances, he has been the definition of a flop. Good luck to him at Newport and I hope he can get some games under his belt, but I don’t want Newport fans to think they have a coup here, he was our fifth choice tighthead by the end.
Joining Mitchell at Dave Parade will be front row colleague Sam Hobbs. The Brecon-born loosehead will leave Cardiff at the end of the season for pastures new after making 126 appearances for us in eight seasons. After coming through the academy via a stint at Pontypridd and gaining Wales U20 honours, Hobbs joined the senior side in time for the 2009/10 season but never really held down a first team place, mostly in the shadow of Gethin Jenkins. With Rhys Gill re-signed for next season as well as the emergence of Brad Theyer and Corey Domachowski now is the right time for Hobbs to move on and I wish him well.
Also leaving the senior squad at the end of this season will be second row Chris Dicomidis. The Cypriot international was called up to the Cardiff Blues squad from Pontypridd in December 2013 during an injury crisis and played in four Heineken Cup pool games that season, going on to make 13 starts overall and a further nine appearances last season. However he has not featured at all this season and played all his rugby at Pontypridd where he will stay permanently from next year. Dico always put in a shift for us when played but going forward this is probably the best move for him and I’m sure he’ll do well at Ponty.
That’s it on the senior players leaving front but news has broken in the last month or so of Danny Wilson having a youth player clear out. We all know the intentions to cut down the size of the playing squad for next season, including the senior academy squad, and it seems that has started already. First up was rather surprisingly Elis Wyn Benham, the young winger who top scored for the A side in the British and Irish Cup and even featured in the grand slam winning Wales U20 squad.
He has been joined by scrum half Mike Hale and loosehead prop Joe Jones on the list of players not having their contracts renewed. As yet none of the three have sorted clubs for next season and will continue to play for Cardiff RFC until May, where they will be after that is yet to be decided but I don’t see a reason why they can’t continue playing for the Rags and try to force their way back into the pro ranks, what with the Cardiff Blues taking over the running of the Premiership side next season.
Two further players who have been released but already sorted their futures are utility back Callum Hall and prop Callum Lewis. The two Callums will join Pontypridd RFC from August where Lewis was already playing, but Hall will move to from Cardiff RFC. Such is the ridiculousness of the Welsh Premiership that Hall has already made his debut for Ponty on license last month, before returning to the Rags to face their A470 rivals last week and then going back North of the M4 for next season. Some people want meritocracy to pro rugby from a league such as this, laughable!
From the disappointment for those players who have been released to the pure elation experienced when signing for the Cardiff Blues. In the last few weeks we have received the confirmation that four players have sensed this unbridled joy, three of which have come from Llanelli, although none of them were particularly surprises.
Steven Shingler was the first to be unveiled as he moves to Cardiff having waved to Rhys Patchell driving the other way down to the M4. I wouldn’t describe Shingler as a direct replacement for Patchell though, that’s the job of Matthew Morgan. The former London Irish player is more of an upgrade on Gareth Davies in the fly half ranks with the added bonus that he is equally comfortable at inside centre and full-back.
It’s a very shrewd signing from Danny Wilson who was worked with Shingler previously at Llanelli and for Wales U20. The Hendy RFC product is a solid fly-half and his versatility will be no end of help. His greatest benefit will be during the Six Nations and Autumn Internationals when the likelihood is that we will lose Gareth Anscombe, Matthew Morgan and Cory Allen, let’s hope he can step up and build a career in Cardiff because, at just 24, time is very much on his side.
Joining the fly-half from Parc y Scarlets next season will be forwards George Earle and Kirby Myhill. Again, both are excellent signings in positions that need bulking up. Myhill will come in and boost the hooker ranks as Matthew Rees moves on, while Earle becomes only the third out and out second row in the squad who is really Pro12 quality. At 29 the South African born lock has plenty of experience but is still in the general prime of a sporting career, and after four seasons down West is well accustomed to the league. He should be able to provide good competition to Jarrad Hoeata and James Down, and add a bit of weight to our second row.
Kirby Myhill on the other hand is just 24 and still has his best years ahead. Having fallen down to pecking order behind Ken Owens and Emyr Phillips and will be looking to get his career back on track under his old Llanelli and Wales U20 coach Wilson. When I say he’s fallen down the pecking order that’s not to say he’s a bad player, he’s just behind two very good players. Given some game time at the Arms Park I don’t see why he can’t get to their level, and he’ll be a part of an excellent hooker battle in Cardiff with Kristian Dacey and Ethan Lewis.
Someone arriving from more exotic climes than Llanelli is centre Willis Halaholo who will fly in from New Zealand next October/November time. The attack minded player has come through the ranks of Southland in the ITM Cup and made it into the wider Hurricanes squad in the last Super Rugby season, making eight appearances. At the time of writing he has missed the matchday squad just once during this season and made the Super Rugby ‘team of the week’ after the Canes’ win over the Southern Kings.
He’s a powerful looking runner but also possesses a nice step and is likely to line up at 13 rather than 12, potentially partnering Rey Lee-Lo when Cory Allen is way with Team Wales, but could well find himself at 12 when Lee-Lo is off with Samoa and Garyn Smith partners him. Centre is a position we are lacking a bit of senior experience so it’s a good move from Wilson and Millard, especially as Halaholo counts as a time server. He will join just in time for the Autumn Internationals after the ITM season finishes, after the 16th October if Waikato, who he has moved to this season, get knocked out before the final rounds, 23rd October if they lose in the semi-finals or 29th October if they reach the final.
With all that the squad is looking very good for next season and beyond. We are transitioning for a team that has a very good starting XV when all are fit but are let down beyond that by having a squad of mainly low quality Pro12 and Welsh Premiership players. Now we are evolving into a team that has genuine competition for places between high quality players and exciting youngsters.
There are still one or two holes to be filled, but next season should still be seen as a transition phase as Danny Wilson and Billy Millard put together their squad. If we are excited in the final season of the changeover imagine how we’ll be when the club is complete. I wouldn’t expect the comings and goings to be finished yet for this season, although it’ll be majority goings when contracts for next season are finalised and announced after the season, look out for part 5 then. In the meantime, come on Cardiff!!