Cardiff Blues have announced that five players have extended their contracts at the club, as Matthew Rees, Kirby Myhill, George Earle, James Down and Dan Fish have all signed new deals to stay at the Arms Park.
Experienced hooker Rees was the only player who’s current deal was due to expire this summer, but after interest from Gloucester has put pen to paper and will play for another season at the Arms Park,
It will be Smiler’s 17th season at the top level of the game, after making his debut for Pontypridd in 2001, and he has gone on to make over 300 appearances for Celtic Warriors, Scarlets and Cardiff Blues, as well as becoming the most capped Welsh hooker of all time.
He joins the likes of Gethin Jenkins and Nick Williams as an experienced member of the squad renewing his contract, after a 2017/18 campaign that saw him make 16 starts in all competition, the joint most in his five years at the club.
Despite being 37 years old now his scrummaging powers have not waned at all, and it is these which have secured him the Cardiff Blues number two jersey for much of this season ahead of Welsh international Kristian Dacey, as well as retaining his mobility around the field and a solid lineout throw.
Attempting to do battle for that number two jersey will be Kirby Myhill, as the 26-year-old goes into his third season at the Arms Park next year.
After a frustrating first campaign in Cardiff Blues colours saw injuries impede his attempts to make his mark on the first team, Myhill returned to the first team picture with 23 appearances in all competitions last year, proving a valuable squad member during the Six Nations period.
The Wales U20 cap, who arrived from Scarlets where he graduated through the academy system, will now be hoping to put more pressure on Kris Dacey and Matthew Rees as the Cardiff Blues return to the Heineken Cup.
Behind them, John Mulvihill has moved to secure the futures of two heavyweights in the second row as George Earle and James Down are retained to pack down at lock.
Since arriving from Scarlets in 2016, South African-born Earle has been a mainstay in the pack when fit, with 36 appearances in all competitions across his two seasons at the Arms Park.
Adding a physical presence at the set piece and breakdown, as well as being a keen ball carrier, Earle has at times had to single handedly add some abrasiveness to the Cardiff Blues side, often to the detriment of an ankle injury that keeps flaring up on the plastic surface at home.
Hopefully, with lock an area that has been identified as needing recruitment, the 31-year-old’s game time can be managed over the next season and beyond, as his experience and leadership on the field, as well as his playing attributes, could be vital up against some big French and English forward packs.
On the other hand, James Down has been a stalwart of the Cardiff Blues squad over the last 11 seasons after making his debut while still an academy player in 2006.
The ultimate clubman, 30-year-old Down has made 231 combined appearances for Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC in the meantime, as well as spending a season at London Welsh in the Aviva Premiership in 2014/15.
Despite finding playing opportunities limited in the last few months of last season, the 6ft7, 19st lock will be hoping to still make valuable contributions, as he did away at Toulouse this season, when called upon by John Mulvihill.
Finally, the only back on the list of contract renewals is another club favourite, as Dan Fish will extend his time with his hometown team beyond the eight seasons he has currently spent at the Arms Park.
After ripping his hamstring from the bone away to Connacht in November 2016, full-back Fish has only featured off the bench in two Anglo-Welsh Cup games for Cardiff Blues, instead spending time with Cardiff RFC last season for whom he played for 13 times in the Premiership.
It has been a long and arduous road back to the first team for the 27-year-old, but the aim is now to get a full pre-season under his belt, and hopefully the man who few can understand will be able to add to his 97 appearances so far and reach the 100 club next season.
For John Mulvihill, that now completes the process of player retention ahead of next season, and his focus now shifts to player recruitment, with announcements expected from Cardiff Blues in two or three weeks.