That is the question. With the start of the season comes great expectations and much excitement for the year to come, but for some players it can also signal a nervous time as they enter the final year of their contract.
With the full circumstances of rugby contracts not always revealed it is not known exactly which players are at risk of release come May, but through a few whispers and some guess work I’ve put together a list of who may be on the way out if a new deal is not offered. Feel free to let me know if you have heard different through the contact page or on Twitter.
Starting off with a couple of players I am 99% sure are coming to the end of their contracts. In the front row, Kristian Dacey signed a contract through to the end of this season back in 2014, while Salesi Ma’afu only signed on for 18 months when he arrived last December. Gethin Jenkins basic contract only runs until May, although there is the option of a further year, while Matthew Rees and Fa’ao Filise added an extra year onto their careers each over the summer.
Behind them second row Jarrad Hoeata is into the last year of his contract, as is American international Cameron Dolan. The back row has escaped largely unscathed, although Sam Warburton‘s NDC must be up for re-negotiating soon. It’s the tight five that will be mostly affected as Scott Andrews is also out of contract I believe, resulting in possibly up to eight players at risk of leaving.
I think you’d have to anticipate Dacey being offered a new contract, as well as Gethin taking the option of a further year assuming he’s happy to extend his career for another season. I find myself saying this for about the fifth time, but I do expect Filise to retire alongside Rees this season. At this stage I don’t foresee Ma’afu staying on next season as he continues his fitness struggles, but there’s enough time left to prove himself.
Scott Andrews may be retained as a squad tight-head to provide cover, otherwise we will likely be left short in that position, while it may be the same for Hoeata and Dolan. Both are locks which this season is our weakest position in terms of squad depth, however both are non-Welsh qualified players (nWq) and it could be seen as a waste of the allocation to keep both playing in the same position, especially when you consider neither have exactly set the World alight in their stay.
That’s not to say they aren’t good players but the issue lies in the fact that only six nWq players are permitted per squad, plus the two time-serving foreign players. Hoeata and Dolan are both very solid Pro12 standard players and have performed well when selected, but what we need from our nWq quota is to have players have as high quality as possible. Obviously we can’t have six world class internationals, and if we kept one of the two second rows I wouldn’t mind, but not both.
Into the backs and it’s not as obviously apparent how many player contracts are up at the end of the season. Cory Allen is one as the contract he signed back in 2013 is up, while Tavis Knoyle‘s three-year deal comes to an end and, like his American colleague Dolan, Blaine Scully is out of contract in May.
Onto the less clear ones and Lewis Jones doesn’t appear to have signed a contract since 2013, so is likely to be requiring a new one soon, while Rey Lee-Lo and Tom James both joined the club in 2015 at a time when two year contracts were the norm. However you’d hope that both players were tied down on longer contracts, or at least will be soon. The final player is Gareth Anscombe who, like Sam Warburton, is on an NDC which may need re-negotiating soon.
With Knoyle and Jones it needs to be one or the other really as with Tomos and Lloyd Williams we have our top two scrum halves, while exciting youngster Dane Blacker will be a year older next season and ready for a taste of senior professional rugby. Meanwhile Scully is facing a similar problem to Dolan and Hoeata in that he’s taking up a nWq place but not featuring regularly.
As above Lee-Lo and James need to each be on long term contracts, as does Allen, while the Cardiff Blues management must ensure Anscombe is on a lengthy NDC with Cardiff and Wales. These are the players who are really key to our back line and can be for many years to come.
In short, a number of players out of contract in positions already under strength in the squad for Danny Wilson, Billy Millard and Richard Holland to deal with, second row and tight head being the main focus. There is also some decisions to be made over the use of the nWq quota next season with potentially five foreign players leaving in the worst case scenario.
What I would say though is that I wouldn’t, at the time of writing early in the season, be campaigning for any players to definitely be let go. Yes, some have a lot of work to do if they want a new contract, but there’s plenty of time to earn those deals. Individual hunger contributing to a team environment can only be a good thing to keep the team moving forwards, then it’s down to trusting the management to make intelligent decisions. Come on Cardiff!!