Analysis: Franco who?

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Rewind two months or so and the world has effectively ended. Or at least that is what some would have you believe that allowing Franco van der Merwe to move on before he has even arrived means for Cardiff Blues.

The man who has meant to be the saviour of our second row signed for London Irish, eventually, and left us with a big gap to fill.

Issues in the second row have been prevalent for a number of years, starting to fall apart when Paul Tito retired in 2012, with Bradley Davies’ 2014 departure the nail in the coffin.

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Paul Tito was our second row rock for many years

Filo Paulo, Jarrad Hoeata, Chris Dicomidis, Cameron Dolan and Lou Reed have all come in to try and bolster the injury room with varying levels of success, but nobody has really been able to perform consistently enough to make either the four or five jersey their own.

It was only last year that George Earle arrived to really take the position by storm, around being injured, while Damian Welch has put in a number of solid performances in the first month of this season.

However, out of nowhere, the last six months have thrown up a future star.

This time last year I’d wager that less than 10% of Cardiff Blues fans, let alone Wales fans, had heard of Seb Davies. Yet by June he was making his Wales debut, and during pre-season he was tipped to be a mainstay of the engine room at the Arms Park.

Seb Davies Wales
Seb made his Wales debut over the summer

He has certainly lived up to that billing, capping a meteoric rise from missing the majority of the 2015/16 season through injury, to making his European and Pro12 debuts last October, then being winning his first Wales cap before actually making a league start for Cardiff Blues.

Speaking to the press after the recent Glasgow game, Davies revealed how he’s “had a couple of kicks up the arse in training, with the conditioners getting on to me. They have played a massive part, having a go at me, Danny as well. It’s just spurred me on really.”

So let’s see what player they have produced..

Lineout

When you think second row the layman’s first thought is giant men being thrown up for the lineout. Basically all the great locks of the last 20 years have been adept lineout jumpers, and Seb is certainly shaping up to be no different in that respect.

Connacht A lineout 4

Standing at around 6ft6 he’s got the height, but combines that with the athleticism that comes from being a lock/blindside flanker. This gives Davies the jump speed ability to be the front jumper at the lineout in a Galway gale.

It also makes him a weapon from the defensive lineout.

Tonga Seb 1

Edinburgh H Seb steal

Two massive steals in terms of field position, setting up a great attacking opportunity for Wales, albeit stunted slightly by a rogue pass, and more importantly digging Cardiff Blues out of a while on our own five metre line.

All the best players in the world can do the basics well. Seb Davies is certainly showing signs of that.

Defence

Despite being one of the younger players on the team, Seb has quickly become a defensive leader, although that perhaps is in part due to his youthful athleticism. He’s not a shouter or a pointer as such, but certainly a leader by example.

Leinster A blitz defence 6

Leinster A blitz defence 4

Coming out as a main figure in the trademark Shaun Edwards defensive blitz that Cardiff Blues are adopting means he’s there to put a hit in on the opposition ball carriers, as well as being ready to support any turnover.

It also helps that Davies loves to tackle, coming out with 49 tackles across the four games of this season. A huge effort for a second row, and a young man at that.

Connacht A Seb tackle 1

Leinster A seb tackle

Two superb tackles in their own right, with the second killing a dangerous Rob Kearney run, but the first being particularly impressive to haul Kieron Marmion back from within reaching distance of the try line. Huge strength on show.

He is also more than capable of effecting the turnover himself.

Glasgow seb turnover

Glasgow seb turnover 2

The first turnover is particularly impressive for a big man to get into that body position, and once he’s set himself Seb will be a difficult unit to move. There’s more than a hint of the blindside that he has often been while coming through the ranks. Adds an excellent extra dimension to his game.

Handling and Mobility

What really adds an extra dimension though, is his three-dimensional attacking game. Is it a coincidence that Brodie Retallick is the best second row in the world, playing in the best team in the world, combining all the donkey work the engine room requires with an attacking awareness some backs would be proud of? I think not.

Seb has said himself he’s bulking up to around 120kgs, and is still a bit off that, but if he can make the weight and maintain the deft hands and attacking lines he uses then he’s got the makings of a very good player.

Edinburgh H better attack 2

Glasgow Seb break

Connacht A Good Defence 7

The awareness to straighten the line and get his hands through the tackle in the first clip is actually a better piece of distribution play than some of our centres have produced this season, while the pickup off his toes in the third clip lead onto something quite special…

Connacht A Seb run

A step Willis Halaholo would be proud of!

It’s difficult not to go completely overboard when talking about Seb Davies, but in what has been a largely disappointing start to the season the young man has been a shining light with his consistently high quality performances.

At only 21 there is a long way to go in his development yet, and I’m sure both the player and coaches will be acutely aware of that. Danny Wilson himself has spoken about the need to manage his game time wisely.

However, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Seb has the makings to go very far in the game. I look forward to tracking his development at the Cardiff Blues!

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