Catch up on the last instalment here: https://cardiffbluesblog.com/2017/01/30/comings-and-goings-part-two-2/
Things are picking up on the transfer front now as teams race to finalise their squads in plenty of time ahead of 2017/18. While French and English sides are battling for marquee signings from Super Rugby, here in Wales things are a little more civilised, with Cardiff picking up players more on the ‘dependable’ scale, although there is some excitement about a young centre.
Let’s get going with all the latest news in and out of the Arms Park…
After the announcement of Franco Van Der Merwe at the start of the year it was hoped the floodgates would open and quality signings would flood in, but in reality we had to wait until the middle of February for any further arrivals to be confirmed. They were nicely timed in the week after a disappointing loss to Connacht though, a nice pick-me-up.
First up we had Jack Roberts announced as arriving from Leicester, a signing that was rumoured but still came as a pleasant surprise. The North Walian was let go by Scarlets academy when younger and moved to Rotherham, impressing enough in his debut English Championship season to earn a contract at Welford Road.
The 24 year old has had to wait until this season to really make an impact, but has earned good reviews from performances at both inside and outside centre. Despite only standing at 5’8″ he weighs over 14st, making him a powerful runner, but his low centre of gravity maintains an elusive ability. His defence is also an unlikely attribute, a very good tackler.
Joining Roberts will be Damian Welch, with the lock returning from Exeter to Wales after five years away. It is also a homecoming of sorts as, although he was born and raised in England, he began his professional rugby career in Cardiff having signed for us while at University in the City.
Although he never appeared for the first team in the three years he was here, he did make 49 appearances for Cardiff RFC, as well as spending a season playing for Pontypridd, before heading down West where he spent three years at the Scarlets before being released to join the Aviva Premiership side.
At 6’6″ and 19st he has the weight we’ve really been lacking in the second row, but is still acknowledged for his athletic ability despite his stature. There have been some concerns that he will be 35 when he returns to the Arms Park, but when you consider he didn’t make his professional rugby debut until he was 27 he doesn’t have huge miles on the clock.
Welch does have the experience and leadership qualities though, which his age will bring, and is another aspect the team appear to have lacked throughout this season. His marshalling of exciting young products like Jack Roberts, but mainly players in his position, such as Seb Davies, will be invaluable.
The only other incoming transfer activity recently has been Sion Bennett, who has arrived on loan from Northampton until the end of the season. The 23 year old back rower, comfortable on the blindside and number eight, started his career with Scarlets, making eight appearances but mainly featuring for Carmarthen Quins before leaving in 2015.
The former Wales U20 and Wales 7s international has not had a particularly happy time at Franklin’s Gardens, only playing for the A team and Premiership 7s side and not even having a profile on their website. He has made a good impression at Cardiff though, with tries against Treviso and Edinburgh, and could well earn himself a permanent contract come the end of the season to boost our back row options.
The first end of season departure has been announced recently, with Cory Allen heading off to the Ospreys upon his contract expiring. The news was effectively revealed upon the signing of Jack Roberts when the club’s press release did not list Allen as being in the competition for centre places, and was confirmed a few weeks later.
Allen made 56 appearances since graduating the academy, and it appears he will not add to that tally after falling behind Willis Halaholo, Rey Lee-Lo, Steve Shingler and Garyn Smith in the midfield pecking order. As a result of this he has linked up with the Wales 7s setup for the time being and will officially leave the club at the end of the season.
My full thoughts on Cory’s departure can be found here: https://cardiffbluesblog.com/2017/03/11/good-luck-cory/
Talking of Garyn Smith, he was one of two young players to commit their futures to Cardiff in recent weeks, signing a new deal alongside Jarrod Evans. Although the exact lengths of the contracts was not confirmed, two years seems to be the going rate, taking them through to 2019.
Both products of the Pontypridd junior system before joining the academy, fly-half Evans and centre Smith have come through the ranks in an almost mirror image fashion, playing for Wales age grade sides before returning to Ponty for Premiership experience.
Smith has been the one to make the more appearances so far, with a run of games towards the end of 2014/15 catapulting him into the limelight as an outside centre, although it appears the coaches are more in favour of him wearing 12 in the long-term.He’ll turn 22 at the end of the season, but has already made 36 appearances.
On the flip side, Evans is probably the player that is most talked about when it comes to the next generation, a creative fly-half who likes to stand flat and be the focal point of an attack, while his goal kicking has come on massively this season. His game management and defensive play have been questioned as he tries to break into the first team, while he was been unlucky with injury, but with the right coaching he could be a special player.
Looking ahead, Gareth Anscombe’s contract is all done and dusted, the delay is due to the WRU wanting to wait on the announcement until it suits them as it is a National Dual Contract, while on the signings front it has gone a little quiet since the Leigh Halfpenny deal came off the table.
The union still want an international to return on a NDC, with Jamie Roberts mentioned, although quickly dismissed, while Tomas Francis has been linked and would make sense considering a perceived weakness in our tighthead department.
Interesting times ahead on the recruitment front as I can’t help but feel that the squad requires a further body or two, and it would be a mistake not to fill the non-Welsh qualified player rota for next season, fingers crossed Billy Millard and the management team will realise this.