Transfer silly season has swung back into action, and this season is set to be as full-on as ever. Increasingly uphill battles to compete with the English and French leagues, fighting to keep hold of Welsh players and contending with players receiving and coming out of National Dual Contracts will make the next few months very interesting indeed.
It’s a crucial period for Billy Millard, Danny Wilson and the club management as they attempt to finalise the squad that will see us through the third of the three year plan specified when Wilson took the reigns.
Hopefully it’ll be a squad competing at both the top end of the Guinness Pro12 and European Rugby, and as such here’s where I think we need to be strengthening, or releasing as the case may be.
This is mainly about where we need to be adding to the squad, rather than who, but there may be a rumour or two along the way about a signing or a departure. Do not take my word, or anyone’s who isn’t putting out a club official announcement, as gospel, but it can give an idea of what type of player is being looked at nevertheless.
We start off with a largely settled position in terms of personnel. Gethin Jenkins signed a new contract to spend an extra season at the Arms Park, while Rhys Gill is only just into his first season back at Cardiff after returning from Saracens. Two Team Wales props, one of which being the highest international capped front row forward ever, isn’t a bad grounding for the squad.
Brad Thyer certainly seems to be thought of highly by the coaching hierarchy and Corey Domachowski has featured heavily for Wales U20s, while young Rhys Carre is getting good exposure to senior rugby at Cardiff RFC as well as featuring in both British and Irish and Anglo-Welsh Cups. He will likely join the senior setup from next season.
Verdict: There is no need to be recruiting in this area as far as I can see, until Gethin Jenkins retires then an assessment must be made on whether any of the young players can step up as the first choice loosehead, or if money must be splashed on a top quality replacement.
This is an interesting one for the management as, on paper at least, we appear well stocked. Kirby Myhill, Kris Dacey and Matthew Rees are three very capable senior hookers, with Ethan Lewis pushing for first team involvement, Liam Belcher has just finished a successful Wales U20 career and Corrie Tarrant is getting a fair few Premiership minutes at Pontypridd.
The issue though is in the fact that we don’t have a real top quality hooker at present. Dacey and Myhill are both very good Pro12 level players, Lewis is still a few years off yet, and we just don’t have that current top level player that would be required for a big European occasion or crucial league match.
If we are looking to sign a new player though, then we will likely need to offload first. With Dacey recently signed a new contract, and Myhill not long joined, then Rees would be the obvious candidate, especially with rumours abound of his retirement.
However his experience and mighty scrummaging powers would be sorely missed, and I’m all for his contract being extended for another year. There is some talk that Belcher is not big enough for senior professional rugby, so he may be released from the academy, but it would still be a lot to carry four senior hookers if another was signed.
Verdict: There is a vacancy for a top class hooker, but only if the right player became available for the right price. With other positions requiring attention first, it’s a low priority position to make signings.
This is one of those positions that does require attention as, for about the sixth season in a row, I find myself saying that I expect Fa’ao Filise to retire come the end of the season. With Anton Peikrishvili only on a short-term contract he could also be heading out the door come May.
Scott Andrews is an interesting one as, in terms of official news, he hasn’t received a new contract since January 2013. However he clearly didn’t sign a four year contract back then so must have quietly been extended in the mean time, and after an impressive start to the season he is becoming a valuable squad player.
Dillon Lewis and Kieron Assiratti are both thought of highly, and especially Dillon is very close to regularly challenging for a starting spot. Assiratti has plenty of Cardiff RFC game time and won’t be far off providing senior cover very soon.
Verdict: There’s scope here, with non-Welsh qualified spots available, to go for a real top quality signing. Tighthead is our biggest requirement for spending in my opinion and we may even need two new players, but a top class starter would be perfect. In terms of a squad player, Newport’s Brok Harris has been linked, who is now Welsh-qualified.
Another interesting position in terms of what will happen over the next few years. Starting with an obvious player, George Earle only joined in the summer and, despite some injury issues, has planted himself in the starting XV quite comfortably.
Macauley Cook, who I would now class as a second row before a flanker, is also going to be around and in my opinion should be utilised more than he is. Youngster Seb Davies has also impressed in his first full senior season and, despite also being able to play 6, will likely find his future at lock, while teenager Josh Novell has earned some decent reviews at Pontypridd.
Beyond that there are decisions to be made over the futures of Jarrad Hoeata, Cam Dolan and James Down. I would suggest both Hoeata and Dolan will be moving on come May, freeing up a further two nWq spaces, with Hoeata now 34 and struggling with a back problem while Dolan has never maintained any sort of presence in the first team.
Down on the other hand I would like to see staying. He signed the summer before last, but with an unknown contract length which will either be up this summer or next, but I believe him to be a solid squad member who is available all year round and won’t be breaking the bank in terms of wages.
Verdict: With two senior locks likely to leave we will need to replace both to boost a position where the depth chart is already struggling. I’d like to see at least one nWq space utilised here and some decent money spent to get Earle a strong starting second row partner. We’ll also need to bolster the squad with a dependent all-year round player, which Exeter’s Damian Welch could well be, or so The Rugby Paper says.
Some may say our strongest position, especially in the forwards. The three 7s of Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins and Sam Warburton are our lynchpins, with all on long-term contracts, Warburton’s being a NDC. Nick Williams and Josh Turnbull provide further competition for places and both are contracted until at least next season.
There’s a young back row trio of James Sheekey, Morgan Sieniawski and Shane Lewis-Hughes all close to challenging for first team places, while former Wales U18 captain Aled Ward has been turning out for Cardiff Met Uni this season.
With Macauley Cook and Seb Davies capable of covering at flanker boosting the back row numbers there isn’t any particular issues in terms of cover.
Verdict: Plenty of quality contracted players, with versatile others able to cover in emergencies, no requirement to strengthen.
Plenty of food for thought in the forwards, with some positions in desperate need of strengthening before next season, and there’s a real requirement to get the recruitment right at such a crucial stage in the development of this team. There’s a definite feel we are only one or two key players away from getting the squad spot on.
Look out for the backs in a few days as we take a look at what is required amongst the quick guys. Make sure to post your thoughts in the comments or reply on Twitter!