The end of the season means reviews of the season just gone, player of the year award piss-ups, long summers of nothing and lastly, goodbyes to those players leaving. This season is a slightly exceptional one due to the quantity of players heading out the door as Danny Wilson gets his squad streamlining into full swing, so let’s have a look at those moving on to pastures new…
We’ll start with the biggest transfer story leaving Cardiff this season as fly-half/full-back Patch moves down the M4 to Llanelli for next season. He has made no secret of the reason for leaving as he sees his future in the number 10 shirt rather than 15 where he has spent much of last season at the Arms Park. A great shame in my opinion as he is a fantastic full-back and could form an unstoppable partnership with Gareth Anscombe at 10, but such is life.
Patchell has been a huge presence around the squad all season this year, making 25 appearances, missing just four games, playing 1841 minutes and scoring 230 points including eight tries. There were times when his goal kicking wasn’t brilliant and cost us particularly in Ireland early in the season, but on the flip side when hitting the line from 15 he was unplayable at points. Will definitely be a loss to Cardiff, it will be interesting to track his progress out West.
To the surprise of some Cardiff fans the big number 8 has been allowed to leave the club as his contract comes to an end this summer. When the signing of Ulster back rower Nick Williams was announced a few months ago the writing was on the wall for Vos, but after some excellent performances in the first half of the season there was plenty of working out if he could be retained and the club stay within the non-Welsh qualified (nWQ) player quota.
Unfortunately for the Italian international it was not to be. After an inconsistent start to 2015/16 he become a cornerstone of the side that turned the season’s fortunes around between November and February, but didn’t start a game after Ulster at home as Sam Warburton returned, finishing with 22 appearances, seven off the bench, scoring two tries and picking up one yellow card. Despite some rumours surrounding Newport, Vosawai is going to French side Rugby Club Vannes next season and good luck to him.
I will admit to being personally surprised by Gav heading out the door, it was a shock when his face appeared on the ‘players leaving’ screen at the end of season awards. Despite really struggling to make an instant impact after arriving from Llanelli in 2009 he has gone on to be a key player in the Cardiff squad making 126 appearances. His key attribute in my eyes is a really solid defensive game at inside centre, certainly an asset in tricky away European and Irish games.
However, Danny Wilson has decided at 32, with Willis Halaholo arriving and a number of young centres coming through the ranks, the time is right for Evans to move on after 14 appearances and two tries this campaign. He will ply his trade in the Welsh Premiership next season as he returns home to Neath and will look to lead the Welsh All-Blacks to some better times than recently.
Newport announced the signing of the tight head prop last month as Mitchell will move on from what has been a forgettable two years in Cardiff. Having been seen as a quite astute signing from Exeter in 2014 the 19-times capped Wales front rower arrived with experience and talking of resurrecting his international career but has not been at peak fitness at any point really during his time at the Arms Park.
His best period in blue came before Christmas this season when he started the first six games of the campaign, coinciding with out worst results run in a long while. He has played solely for the Rags since December finishing with only one more start for the senior side as he’s made for Cardiff RFC in two years. Still only 30 so has time to get his career back on track at Newport though.
Joining Craig Mitchell in Newport will be front row colleague Hobbs who leaves after seven years at Cardiff having come through the academy. The loose head has played 126 times for Cardiff, including 15 this season, but has not featured since January and only started once after October, mainly due to injuries in the second half of the season.
In that time we have seen the emergence of Bradley Thyer in the senior squad, and had confirmation of Rhys Gill returning to the club from Saracens meaning Hobbs would fall even further down the pecking order. A move to Newport will be good for his career and is probably about his level, just don’t tell him that or he’ll block you on Twitter!
A second loose head prop out the door is another academy graduate in Tom Davies. Five years on from joining the senior squad he still has not been able to really make his mark in the starting XV. This may seem odd when you consider that he made his 50th appearance against Munster in March, but it’s apt that it came off the bench along with 36 of his other caps.
This season saw four league starts, double his previous record, as well as 10 substitute appearances and in all honesty he wasn’t the worst Cardiff player I’ve ever seen. At just 22 I did wonder whether if he may be kept on as third/fourth choice, and under previous regimes he probably would’ve been. With Wilson’s squad trimming though he moves on to Cardiff Old Boys, I mean Newport, with Hobbs and Mitchell.
Another player who under previous regimes may have been kept on is Lou Reed. The second row is not a terrible player, he’s not a good player, but we could do much worse. With our current somewhat shortage of senior locks it is maybe a surprise to see him leave but if we’re all completely honest he’s not good enough to be involved in a squad competing for the Champions Cup.
Reed moves on having made 17 appearances this season to make it 64 in total and I think the main point to make from this move is that Danny Wilson must have faith in firstly Cam Dolan, Macauley Cook and Josh Turnbull to cover at lock, as well as seeing potential in Seb Davies and Shane Lewis-Hughes from the academy. In terms of Reed’s future he is unbelievably still just 29 so has a few more years left in him, and he’s been snapped up by Aviva Premiership side Sale, presumably as a back-up.
While it may seem that we are taking everyone from Llanelli over the summer we are actually offering a decent amount in return as joining Rhys Patchell is Tom Williams down West. Of course technically he is already there having spent the season on loan at Parc y Scarlets but he will move down permanently despite missing much of this year due to injury.
The winger/full-back never really broke into the Cardiff side in the same way big brother Lloyd did only making 14 Pro12 appearances in three years on top of a few LV Cup games. Despite probably being a member short in the back three department it is probably the right decision to let him go and good luck to him in Llanelli.
Another player who never really made their mark in Cardiff is centre Isaacs. Having signed from Gloucester part way through 2014/15 season he played 11 games under Mark Hammett and the Chief/John partnership scoring a try against Ulster before making eight appearances at the start of the Wilson reign.
However after November he only featured once as a late call up against Ospreys at Judgement Day having spent most of the time since Christmas away travelling with the Wales 7s setup. He’s a reliable centre/winger but, like Reed and Davies before him, is not a player who will be heavily involved in a top half Pro12 side. As such he has decided to move on to Hong Kong FC – Rugby Section for a fresh start and to begin a life outside rugby also.
Continuing with the Wales 7s theme and being released from the club is winger Jenkins. Having graduated from the academy the son of former Wales hooker Garin Jenkins has never had a real chance in the first team and as such has been released, likely to join the national 7s setup full-time.
He made just eight appearances since his debut against Treviso in November 2013, scoring no tries and making playing his final game in a Cardiff shirt against Leinster in last season’s second match. He made a few A team appearances scoring two tries but these were not enough to impress Danny Wilson.
Also moving on to the Wales 7s set up is young flanker Roach who has graduated the academy and not been offered a further deal. The Llanishen High School product has only made Cardiff appearances in the LV Cup and British and Irish Cup during the last three seasons.
He joined with the 7s setup for the first time after Christmas and has made such an impression that he was one of the first players offered a full-time WRU contract for the short-sided game when they were re-introduced.
The final Wales 7s player released is centre/full-back Thomas who leaves after making 22 appearances in two seasons. After previously captaining the 7s and spending many years at Pontypridd he was signed for the Cardiff squad ahead of Mark Hammett’s arrival, going on to make 20 appearances in 2014/15 under the Kiwi and later the Paul John and Dale McIntosh partnership.
However it took just two appearances for Danny Wilson to discover he was not good enough for the professional game, losses at Ulster and Zebre, before he went back travelling with 7s and departed at the end of the season, also likely to link up with Wales full-time.
Former Wales 7s captain Groves, who no longer features for the national side, has departed after making very little impact on any senior Cardiff squad games. He made just one substitute appearance in the Pro12, coming on away at Munster last season for a 22 minute appearance where he was sin binned for 10 of those.
The ex-Newport man also made two LV Cup appearances in 2014/15, as well as captaining the A side last year, but did little to impress and has played the majority of his rugby for the Rags. At just 28 Groves has now made the decision to take up the full-time role of Elite Men’s Sevens Coach at the Hong Kong Sports Institute, where I’m sure he’ll link up with Isaacs and former Cardiff coach Gareth Baber, now Hong Kong National Sevens coach.
Away from the first team squad and to players released back to Welsh Premiership. First up Cypriot international Dicomidis returns to Pontypridd permanently next season having been signed to Cardiff Blues full-time during an injury crisis in December 2013.
He went on to make 13 appearances that season, followed up with nine last year but has not featured at all this season heading back to the semi-pro level where his quality belongs really.
Another man who has hardly featured this season with just five substitute appearances between September and October. With the emergence of Jarrod Evans pushing him further behind Gareth Anscombe in the fly-half pecking order, and both Steve Shingler and Matthew Morgan arriving next season, it’s time for the Caerphilly man to move on.
Having made 77 appearances since stepping up from Cardiff RFC in 2010 he has scored 256 points in six years but shall be remembered for just five, THAT last gasp try against Toulon at home in 2013. Such scenes have not been witnessed at Arms Park since, hopefully they’ll be back soon! On goes Davies though to a new adventure, apparently at Merthyr if murmurings are to be believed.
If Gareth Davies does join Merthyr he shall be there alongside lock Normandale who signed for the Ironmen a few months ago. After signing for the club from Cardiff Met RFC in time for the 2013/14 season it was thought he may have a bit of potential about him but we had to wait until 2014/15 to really see him in action.
Three substitute appearances in the Pro12 saw him in first XV action for the first time but it was an LV Cup game where he had his Gareth Davies memorable moment as a dramatic late brace of tries secured a highly unlikely comeback for Cardiff against Wasps in Coventry. With first team opportunities restricted massively he goes to Merthyr to further his rugby career.
The third in a trio of Merthyr bound men is hooker Williams who was revealed to have left Cardiff earlier in the season. After coming through the academy he joined the senior side ranks in 2008 and went on to make 70 appearances altogether, although 44 of those were off the bench.
He did make a substitute appearance against Zebre on the opening day of last season but that was to be his last outing in a Cardiff shirt and he was removed from the squad page on the website before Christmas. He started turning out for the Ironmen in February and has helped them win the WRU Championship title with promotion to the Welsh Premiership.
Going head-to-head with the Merthyr men will be Pontypridd aided by the return of 2013/14 Premiership Player of the Year Walsh. The full-back signed for Cardiff on the back of his award and made nine appearances the following season all under Mark Hammett.
Unfortunately the fact that he had not played professional rugby before Cardiff showed quite clearly for Walsh and it was only a matter of time before he was back in the Premiership having not got any chances at all under Wilson.
From the senior first XV to the senior academy and Danny Wilson has pulled no punches when it comes to youngsters and their contracts. Whereas before the future players would be tied down early if showing some promising signs and then left to rot, Wilson has not been scared to let them go early. Davies is one of these as he heads off to Bath at 22 years old.
The 6’4″ winger/full-back has played the majority of his rugby at the Rags with 26 appearances over the past two seasons, scoring eight tries. He turned out three times for the A side in the British and Irish Cup earlier in the year, after being an unused substitute out in Munster. Apart from that he has been confined to two LV Cup matches and heads to coach-less Bath looking to kick-start his career.
Elis Wyn Benham
Probably the biggest shock which really brought into focus how ruthless Wilson will be with the academy boys is Benham’s departure. The Wales Under 20 winger was revealed as being on his way just after he won the U20 Grand Slam in March, having been the top scorer in the A side’s BIC campaign.
Like Harry Davies he has played mostly in the Welsh Premiership with five tries in 25 games for Cardiff RFC, and he was also an unused substitute in the Pro12 this season, at home to Edinburgh. However he was unable to make his Cardiff debut in 15s rugby. Unclear where he is heading next at the moment, maybe he will do a Lewis Jones and sign for the Rags before returning to us. We shall have to keep an eye out.
The 17th and final player heading out the door from the senior squad is quite simply one of the greatest players ever to play for Cardiff. I don’t think I’ve made any secret of my love for Richard Smith so to see him go certainly brings a lump to my throat. After joining Cardiff from Neath via the Wales 7s set up, Smith has made 44 appearances since arriving in 2012/13.
Playing at centre/wing he has scored eight tries overall, not a bad return, including one against Munster in early season. Smith also turned out against Ulster and Connacht but has not been around the senior squad since then, turning out for Cardiff RFC 12 times scoring eight tries. It seems set Dickie will head to Llanelli next season so if you don’t see me at CAP I’ll be at PyS wearing a Richard Smith mask!
So there we have it, 17 players out the door and on the road. Rhys Patchell, Manoa Vosawai and the great Richard Smith aside I think there’s some perfectly acceptable decisions there that will result in the squad size coming down below 50 for next season and the quality of the squad increasing massively. While the idea is a noble one we shall have to wait to see whether squad streamlining is practical. However, what I do know is that in Danny I trust. Come on Cardiff!!