Get your bow ties on and your ball gowns ready, it’s time for the first annual glittering Blues Life awards! As the end of the first season for the blog draws to a close it’s time to reward those that are deserving of accolades, and those not so deserving. So get the drinks in and we’ll start the show…
Most Improved Player
We’ll start with the player that has come on the most over the season under Danny Wilson. Now it would be easy to of course hand this to a senior academy player who has broken through but we’ll have a separate award for that later, this is solely for senior players who perhaps at the start of the season we weren’t so sure about, but have proved us wrong.
Contenders came in the shape of Rey Lee-Lo, who started slowly but became a key player by the end of the year, Gareth Anscombe was a surprise option having been in excellent form towards the end of the campaign after a slow start to his Cardiff Blues career in 2014/15, while Gavin Evans was also considered having been a very solid performer during a difficult first few months.
However in the end there was just one man who deserved the prize, and that man is Dan Fish. In his sixth season with Cardiff now he bounced back from a disappointing 2014/15, where he made just 11 first team appearances, to play 26 times this campaign and score nine tries on the way. He has been a rock in the back three, playing predominantly at full-back but also on the wing having really flourished under Danny Wilson’s coaching. With our running rugby and plastic pitch remember the golden rule, ‘Feed the Fish’.
Best Young Player
Now we move on to the senior academy lads and there’s plenty to pick from this year as no fewer than 11 were involved with the first team squad to various degrees. Aled Summerhill scored six first team tries, Garyn Smith started each of the last six matches and performed well scoring a try, while Jarrod Evans has looked composed leading the backline from outside-half. In the forwards Brad Thyer and Ethan Lewis have both established themselves as first team front-rowers after successful first senior seasons.
However, my winner may not be everyone’s first choice, but I have chosen Dillon Lewis as the best young player. He hasn’t played as much as some others, with just three starts and 10 substitute appearances, but I have been impressed enough by what I’ve seen to give him the award. He is a strong scrummager, the cornerstone of all tightheads, but to go with that he offers plenty in open play with neat hands and some fancy feet. He is willing to carry and offload and hasn’t just impressed with Cardiff but also Wales U20. I hope he has a big summer at the Junior World Championships before next season.
Onto the team awards and first up our best victory of the season. Obviously despite a slow start we improved to record some fantastic wins in the second half of the campaign. Newport away was a cracking game, as was Munster at home, while of course doing the double over Llanelli was a real high point. However my winner in this category is the defeating of Montpellier at home just before Christmas.
In a 37-27 victory we ran in five tries to record just our fourth win in three and a half months. The win itself was impressive but to do it on the back of such poor form was a real confidence booster. Looking back on the season it really kickstarted our impressive second half of the campaign and to do that against a team jam packed with internationals was quite some feat. A European night under the lights at CAP that won’t be forgotten in a hurry!
Re-live the best win of the season here: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2015/12/15/cardiff-37-27-montpellier/
From the top of the pile to the bottom of the heap and there are, unfortunately, a number of possible winners. The 20-32 loss to Harlequins at home in the Challenge Cup doesn’t sound a particularly bad scoreline but when you consider it was a second, or even third, Quins starting XV it was a very disappointing performance. There was also the loss to Zebre away in October, 26-15, that came at the end of four straight losses to the Irish provinces that was a real contender.
However the winner in my eyes is another defeat in Italy, this time 13-7 to Treviso. It always seems worse to lose to Zebre so this decision may surprise some but this season I think the Treviso loss was the worst by a distance. To put it in context, at the time Cardiff were on a run of four wins in the last five and high on confidence, while the Italians were yet to win a game in any competition all season. Considering the game took place in February, that’s pretty bad.
Despite some poor Southern European weather that weekend there was no excuses for not winning. The discipline was poor to allow Treviso to take the lead from the tee and a general lack of any desire, the thing which annoys me the most, meant we didn’t get into the game until just after half-time. Following the break we let the home side retake the lead from a penalty try and then spent 30 minutes actively trying to mess up scoring a try. Overall not good enough and a clear winner of 2015/16’s Worst Performance Award for me.
Treviso 13-7 Cardiff. Dreadful: https://cardiffbluesblog.wordpress.com/2016/02/15/treviso-13-7-cardiff/
There wasn’t a huge amount to choose from in this category with recruitment a bit thin on the ground last year but those that did come in made a decent impact. The Americans, Blaine Scully and Cam Dolan, still have some settling to do, as mentioned above Rey Lee-Lo improved dramatically after a slow start, while Tom James finished the season as top club try scorer with eleven in all competitions.
However the best signing of last summer can go to just one man and that is Danny Wilson. He arrived last season to take on the difficult task of turning the team around from a frankly desperate season, where we finished bottom of all four Welsh clubs, back to the high echelons of the Pro12 and eventually the Champions Cup. At one point in late October that seemed further off than ever but, with full credit to Wilson leading his coaching team, the culture at the club has changed from a divided and downbeat one to a teamwork-based positive side.
The players have responded to this brilliantly, many talking about the buoyant atmosphere around the club and how much they are enjoying their rugby. A change in style of play has worked wonders as well with fast running rugby really suiting the type of players we have, and those that are being recruited. The future is certainly bright again in Cardiff, in Danny we trust!
Best A Team Player
As this season was the first for the A team to be competing in the British and Irish Cup on behalf of the Cardiff Blues this becomes the inaugural A Team Player of the Year award anywhere around. A lot of players were used across the six group games and solitary friendly played this season, making it difficult for players to really stake a claim for the award. The player with the most appearances was skipper Jevon Groves who led well but didn’t really set the World alight, while Aled Summerhill and James Sheekey made impressions from the younger players.
The winner though goes to a player who is actually no longer a Cardiff Blues squad member. Elis Wyn Benham finished as top scorer in the A side with three tries, including two at home to London Welsh in a fantastic performance. His showings in the A team earned him a place in the Wales U20 squad and he made an appearance on the bench in the Pro12. However he has been deemed not capable of making the grade by Danny Wilson and is on the search for a new club, good luck to him.
A Team Try of the Year
While Benham is busy packing up out of Cardiff he can take a second trophy with him as he also takes home the try of the year award in the A side British and Irish Cup campaign. Receiving possession from deep against London Welsh at CAP he moves towards the defensive line, steps inside, steps outside then turns on the afterburners to coast through to the line from halfway.
Fast forward to four minutes from here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PY_zT4Tr0vE
Senior Try of the Year
Into the first XV and it’s not been a vintage year for tries, despite the number we have scored. The majority of our scores this season have come from forward drives, rolling mauls and two yard touch downs in the red zone as Danny Wilson has transformed the attacking threat of the forwards. However that doesn’t mean we haven’t had the odd moment of brilliance.
From those forwards tries we have had a few special ones, Matthew Rees’ try from a lineout move against Munster at CAP and Josh Navidi’s solo carry against the Ospreys at Judgement Day coming to mind. There have also been some nice backs work leading to tries for Rey Lee-Lo against Newport and Aled Summerhill vs Ulster, both at home, while individual skill from Garyn Smith and Gareth Anscombe saw tries at home to Munster and at Parc y Scarlets.
The winner though comes from early on in the season, so cast your minds back to Connacht away. Dan Fish comes into the line from full-back on the right wing, sticks a little grubber kick through into the Irish side’s 22 before dribbling past the opposing full-back and a final kick taking him over the try line for a score. A piece of skill that Lionel Messi would be proud of and a worthy winner of this season’s best try award.
1:33 for the Dan ‘Ronado’ Fish score: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aqawYM9G2wc
Player of the Year
Ladies and Gentleman it is now time for the final and biggest award of the night, Player of the Year. This year has been an up and down season for sure and at different times there have been different players in really good form. However there has not been someone who has put their hand up for the trophy throughout the entire season so we have no real clear winner.
At the beginning of the season we had Manoa Vosawai acting as a rock of the side from number 8 but he struggled to get into the side as the year wore on with others selected ahead of him as it became clear he would be leaving come the summer. In the second half of the season we had Rey Lee-Lo becoming invaluable to the side from inside centre and Gareth Anscombe coming back into the team and performing very well.
We have had a few players turn out consistently across 2015/16. Josh Turnbull and two-time winner Dan Fish were mainstays of the starting XV throughout, Tom James finished as top scorer in all competitions while 174 year old Tau Filise put the younger lads to shame with his performances. Honourable mentions also go to half-back pairing Lloyd Williams and Rhys Patchell for their continued influential outings.
However, for me, there is one winner and it comes in the shape of Ellis Jenkins. Despite being just 22 at the start of the season he already had 41 appearances under his belt and has added 21 this season, impressive considering he missed two months including the Christmas period with injury. Had he not sustained that injury at home to Harlequins I am hopeful he would have been selected for Wales’ Six Nations campaign, which is as good as it gets under Gatland, but missing out on the squad meant his impressive performances for Cardiff could continue.
He’s a willing runner with some nice handling skills, a strong tackler and most importantly is excellent at the breakdown. He possesses all the skills to become a world class flanker and is just another on the Cardiff number 7 conveyor belt. It was a shocker that Jenkins was not selected for Wales’ summer tour to New Zealand originally, but he thoroughly deserves his seat on the plane as an injury replacement for Dan Lydiate.
So there we have it, the first Blues Life Player of the Year is Ellis Jenkins and that rounds of this season’s awards from me. It’s been a good season overall but I do hope I have an even harder time picking winners next year. Come on Cardiff!!