The tightheads on John Mulvihill’s shopping list

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When new Cardiff Blues head coach John Mulvihill took a lot at our squad for the first time when appointed in March he would have been looking at what positions need strengthening.

The response from anyone he asked would likely have been unanimous; tighthead and second row. For too long we’ve been having to find ways to avoid being bullied up front, that has to change, especially with a Champions Cup campaign just around the corner.

So far it has been revealed that Mulvihill has been looking at a hooker, a ball carrying back rower and some additions to the back three. All additions to the squad which will be beneficial, but not directly addressing the issues we have within the tight five.

However, all roads seem to lead to one place in the Cardiff Blues transfer rumour world at the moment, and that is the signing of an Australian, or at least an Australian-based, tighthead prop. With a few names floating around, I’ve had a look at who John Mulvihill is said to be considering.

Taniela Tupou

Queensland Reds prop Tupou has been linked to Cardiff Blues after a breakout 2017 Super Rugby season. The 22-year-old played 14 times as the Reds finished third in the Australian Conference, before a strong National Rugby Championship campaign for Queensland Country.

On the back of that he was selected to tour with Australia last Autumn, making his debut against Scotland at Murrayfield, which may deter him from heading to the Northern Hemisphere and ruling him out of Wallabies contention with the World Cup only just over a year away.

At 135kgs, the ‘Tongan Thor’ would be the perfect addition to the Cardiff Blues scrum, especially with the King of Tonga making way to facilitate the new tighthead’s arrival, and with Mulvihill’s Queensland roots he will no doubt be aware of Tupou and have him on a wishlist.

Verdict: Unlikely, having only just made the Australian senior squad.

Taniela Tupou
Taniela Tupou in action for the Reds

Sekope Kepu

I almost feel embarrassed writing this, as it’s kind of on par with Dragons being linked with Quade Cooper and Leone Nakarawa, but 91-cap Australian international Kepu’s named has cropped up more than once in my digging.

It’s not entirely impossible, Kepu will likely know of John Mulvihill through Australian rugby circles, will still be available for Australia despite playing abroad courtesy of how many caps he has, and has already spent time in the Northern Hemisphere during a spell with Bordeaux.

However, the 32-year-old will demand big wages, and one would imagine many clubs would be lining up at the door of Kepu’s agent knowing that his contract with the Waratahs comes to an end after this Super Rugby campaign.

Verdict: Surely not? I’m refusing to believe it.

Sekope Kepu
It would be a big surprise to see Sekope Kepu at the Arms Park next season

Salesi Manu

Now this appears to be the most likely candidate to be joining Cardiff Blues this summer for a few reasons.

At 27, Manu is just coming into the prime of his career, and at 6ft1 and almost 20 stone, he more than fits the size bill we require for a new tighthead prop. He also has good experience of top level rugby, having represented Australia U20 and played Super Rugby with the Western Force.

That is one John Mulvihill link, and a second is that he has already played under our new head coach in a season at Honda Heat. Manu also has Pro14 experience, having spent two seasons at Benetton Treviso between 2014 and 2016.

Crucially, and this a very modern rugby sentence, he follows Cardiff Blues on Twitter!

Manu is currently playing for Bond University in the Queensland Premier Division, the same league Quade Cooper is playing in, having appeared for Brisbane City in the National Rugby Championship last season, and is not likely to have the same wage demands as a Taniela Tupou or Sekope Kepu.

Verdict: The most likely name on the list

Salesi Manu
Salesi Manu is a very large man

Tomas Francis

The Welsh international tighthead is not Australian, of course, but in what is becoming a yearly occurrence, there are whispers that enquiries have been made into his availability.

As with Luke Charteris, who as previously mentioned has been contacted and subsequently fallen through for now, Francis is one of the players who was named in the Wales squad for this summer’s tour only to be withdrawn after Premiership Rugby Limited refused to release English-based players for the first test.

With many suspecting this was a deliberate play by the WRU to encourage players to return home to Wales, Francis has again been linked with a move to the Arms Park with the World Cup around the corner.

However, Exeter coach Rob Baxter was clear last season that Francis is under contract until 2019 and would be seeing that out, therefore it will take a good enough offer being made to the Chiefs to buy out the 26-year-old’s contract should Cardiff Blues wish to sign him.

A trophy win is an excellent motivator for Peter Thomas to reach into his pocket once again, but whether he will do that, or if the WRU will assist financially, remains to be seen. It’s not looking too likely at the moment.

Verdict: Can’t see WRU buying out a second choice tighthead for us

Tomas Francis has been linked again

Next week, if there are still no announcements, will be a look at the second rows that Mulvihill could opt for to stock up at lock.

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