We’ve made it, the final instalment of the 2017/18 Cardiff Blues Team Report, brought to you by Cardiff Rugby Life.
Finishing up with an area of the pitch that, like the back row of the pack, is pretty well stocked with quality players. A good point to wrap up this series and set the positive tone for the season.
Starting with Cardiff Blues’ top try scorer, and a guy not very far behind, in Tom James and Alex Cuthbert we have plenty of firepower out wide this season.
TJ is set to start his 10th season at the Arms Park in September, and is just one appearance off hitting the 150 mark, despite spending two seasons playing in England for the Exeter Chiefs.
With 56 tries to his name he leads the try scoring ranks currently, and managed to add seven scores to his total last season despite a mystery illness restricting James to just two starts after Christmas.
Now back in full pre-season training, hopefully TJ is over his health issues and ready to return to the nightmares of Pro14 defenders everywhere!
Cuthbert on the other hand seemed to have an opposite season to wing partner James, starting fairly slowly by his standards before coming to life with two tries in a week against Ulster and Bath.
A steady incline in performances resulted in a call-up to the Wales Six Nations squad, but some massively unnecessary criticism following the England game saw him return to Cardiff. Fortunately he responded perfectly, with a man-of-the-match performance against Treviso and kicked on from there.
A superb brace against Gloucester and some strong defensive outings against Zebre and Dragons helped secure a return to the Wales setup and it was capped by a try against Tonga. If Cuthy can reproduce even half that form at the start of this season, then we’re onto a winner.
Ready to step up if either of the first choice wingers are unavailable is Aled Summerhill, who currently has a try scoring record of seven tries in 18 Pro12 games.
The Rhondda youngster is now into his fourth Cardiff Blues season but has found opportunities frustratingly limited due to a mixture of injuries and being down in the pecking order behind some international quality wingers.
However, with that try scoring record Summerhill clearly has something about him. He’s quick, balanced and well built, and as someone who’s played in every position outside scrum-half, he’s obviously an adept rugby player. If he keeps grabbing his opportunities he’ll soon be hard to ignore.
First up falling into the category of utility back three player is a man who is very fast becoming a cult hero at the Arms Park. Our very own Captain America, Blaine Scully.
With chants of ‘USA, USA’ ringing around the famous old ground, Scully came into his own last season after a slightly stuttering debut year, scoring five tries in 19 games including the try of the season at home to Scarlets.
Mainly utilised on the wing, Scully is also comfortable at full-back, where I happen to think he should be used more often as the most defensively sound full-back more than making up for any lack of footballing skills.
Having said that, one of the reasons he’s so loved by the CAP faithful is his desire to give 100% every time he steps out onto the pitch in a Cardiff jersey. Whether it’s kick chasing, tackling or carrying, you know Scully is busting a gut for the team and that’s the way into the heart of any Blues fan.
Of course, there is another way to become THE cult hero, and that’s be Dan Fish. Fortunately for one of our current squad he is Dan Fish, and the good news is that he is fit and in full training again after that horror hamstring tear picked up against Connacht.
Despite the fact it feels like Fish has always played for Cardiff, he’s still only 26, but is ready to start his eighth season and only five appearances off joining the 100 Club.
A committed defender, a cultured left boot and pace to burn, Fish is a supremely capable back three player, and crucially will not be involved with Team Wales leaving him available for selection all-year round. Here’s to many more years of feeding the Fish and watching him score.
Joining the two fan favourites in being able to cover across the back three is a young man who is just setting out on the road to Arms Park adulation in Rhun Williams.
The North Walian joined the academy on the back of some rave reviews in his first Wales U20 year, and was soon thrust into Pro12 action as he made his debut against Treviso in November and bagging himself a try in the process.
After a total of 13 appearances in the season he was selected to travel with the Wales squad on their southern hemisphere tour, but unfortunately picked up an ankle injury in the final game of the year against Stade Francais to rule him out.
Rhun is now back in training though and ready to grow his reputation even further. We all know Williams will be a full-back eventually, but I’d expect him to continue mainly on the wing this season as he is introduced to the game in the same way Leigh Halfpenny was.
Falling into the ‘full-back only’ category is only one player in the squad, and in Matthew Morgan it’s the man who wore the number 15 jersey more than any other last season.
With 30 appearances seeing him feature in every Cardiff Blues game last season, Morgan was certainly worked hard on his debut season at the Arms Park, mainly due to the injury to Dan Fish.
Six tries is not a bad return from the full-back, but it’s the tries conceded that many people will point to as counteracting those scores.
Unfortunately Nipper is not the best defensive full-back, it’s not a great secret, but on the flip side he is up there with the best counter-attacking full-backs in the league, if not Europe.
With that in mind, picking the correct games to use Morgan in is absolutely crucial when we have a full squad fit and ready to select from. Home games on the plastic will be favoured, particularly off the bench when the game opens up late on, while against the likes of Edinburgh and the Italians he will be an asset.
Like the back row there is a lot of good combinations to choose from in the back three, with the key to selection being balance. If Danny Wilson is able to rotate the outside backs to keep them fresh, without causing any loss of form, then we’ll be onto a winner.
It’s a very narrow tightrope to walk in that respect, but there are tries everywhere you look in that back three. If we can get the majority of these players fit and firing all season then we’ve got a great chance of competing. Come on Cardiff!!