Cardiff Blues confirmed their 41-man squad for the pool stages of the 2016/17 Challenge Cup today, with the main news being that Australian international Salesi Ma’afu is not included.
Head Coach Danny Wilson has gone with senior academy tighthead Kieron Assirratti over the former Toulon man who has not featured at all this season for the first team since pre-season, making just one Cardiff RFC performance in that time. He has also been left out of the squad for the A side game against Ospreys on Wednesday.
It begs the question about whether Ma’afu really needs to be retained on the wage bill at the Arms Park. Although the exact ins and outs of his contract are unknown, it is set to run out at the end of the season and I suspect he’s taking up a sizeable chunk of the salary cap as his experience and previous quality would command a decent amount of money.
When he arrived from Toulon in December last year I was not the only one to be somewhat excited by the new arrival. 14 Australia caps as well as stints in the English Premiership, Super Rugby and Top14 all pointed to a fairly shrewd acquisition from the Cardiff management.
We were prepared to wait for him to get fit but there was a certain disappointment when he finally appeared in January still very out of shape and, six games later where he failed to get past the 50 minute mark in all, he disappeared for the rest of the season.
That disappointment was nothing though compared to when he turned up at Rodney Parade for our first pre-season game of this season. After a full summer of training you would’ve expected him to be fit and ready to go, but we are now left with the dilemma of having one of our non-Welsh qualified player slots being filled up by an inactive member of the squad.
There are no surprises elsewhere in the Challenge Cup squad though as every other senior member of the squad is named, with senior academy players Corey Domachowski, Seb Davies, Harri Millard and Rhun Williams joining their colleague Assirratti.
The soon to be arriving Willis Halaholo has not been named in the initial squad as he will not be in Wales in time for the first two pool games at Bristol and at home to Pau. Teams are however permitted three squad changes during the pool stage meaning he may well replace someone in the squad for the December double header against Bath.
This rule could also provide a lifeline for Ma’afu to return to the squad, and there is alos emergency front row players that can be used on a game-by-game basis if injuries strike, but first he needs to seriously start some running and get close to what might be described as a healthy shape for a tighthead.
Cardiff Blues’ 2016/17 Challenge Cup campaign gets underway a week on Friday, so make sure you get the lowdown on all our pool opponents before then. Tickets for that clash at Ashton Gate are available here, and you can travel to the game on the Cardiff Blues Supporter’s Club bus.
Cardiff Blues Challenge Cup squad: Gethin Jenkins, Rhys Gill, Brad Thyer, Corey Domachowski, Kris Dacey, Kirby Myhill, Matthew Rees, Ethan Lewis, Fa’ao Filise, Scott Andrews, Dillon Lewis, Kieron Assirratti, George Earle, James Down, Jarrad Hoeata, Seb Davies, Macauley Cook, Cam Dolan, Josh Turnbull, Sam Warburton, Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, Nick Williams.
Lloyd Williams, Tomos Williams, Lewis Jones, Tavis Knoyle, Gareth Anscombe, Steve Shingler, Jarrod Evans, Rey Lee-Lo, Cory Allen, Harri Millard, Garyn Smith, Aled Summerhill, Tom James, Alex Cuthbert, Blaine Scully, Dan Fish, Matthew Morgan, Rhun Williams