The first of ‘The New Boys’ series for this summer starts with the man who became John Mulvihill’s first signing at the Cardiff Blues, Moldovan international tighthead Dmitri Arhip.
In what was a surprise move, Arhip switched to the capital from the Ospreys despite reports suggesting he was all set to join French Top14 side Montpellier on a hefty contract. £500,000 a season sounds very appealing, although he’s not on close to that at the Arms Park.
It is the fall-out from that collapsed move to France that will be the focus, in a round-about way, of this analysis as the reason why Arhip will not be playing his trade at the Altrad Stadium next season is due to what some would have you believe to be a career threatening injury.
I’ve tried my best to provide a full background of how the prop came to fall foul of French injury regulations, and using the case study of Juan Figallo proved that his career can still flourish, but as always the proof is in the pudding.
Arhip’s injury came against Grenoble in December 2016, and kept him out until October 2017 when he returned against Scarlets. Nearly a year without rugby. So, rather than showing clips of him between 2012 and 2016, it seems prudent to have a look at his form since returning to action, particularly in the big Heineken Cup games.
We start with the area of his game that every Cardiff Blues supporter will be keen to know is still fully functioning.
Four clips of pure encouragement for those of us in the terraces at the Arms Park, and not just because of the technique and power that Arhip still possesses after the injury.
All four clips are taken from the Heineken Cup pool game between the Ospreys and Saracens in January, where the Moldovan put English front row pair Jamie George and Mako Vunipola to the sword.
With the Gallagher Premiership champions in the same pool as Cardiff Blues this season, the hope is that Arhip will be able to continue that form across both games at his new club.
For too many seasons now the scrum has been a source of concern. There have been moments of security at tighthead, and the issue is not solely in the three shirt, but with Dillon Lewis putting a very solid showing in with Wales over the summer and now Arhip coming on board, things seem set to turn a corner.
It’s not just in the scrum that the incoming man will be an asset to the team though, as he brings his power to open play whether in possession or not.
Last season Nick Williams was the main focus of our ball carrying, with other players chipping in here and there, but if Arhip can give us another option, with Samu Manoa (who appears later in the week) also keen to get his hands on the ball, tempo shouldn’t be hard to come by.
Ball carrying isn’t always about breaking a tackle and making 10+ metres down field, more often than not it’s just getting the team on the front foot, occupying two or three defenders and presenting the ball to get the backs involved quickly.
Arhip offers two fine examples of that, as well as some textbook ball retention work at the breakdown and a defensive play that would not look out of play in our system from last season. Blitzing, hitting the ball carrier early and holding him up with the possibility of a turnover.
As well as the power though, there is a mobile side to the prop that belies his nearly 19 stone frame.
There’s few finer sights in rugby than a big man lining up and hitting a winger on a kick return, or running down the wing with two defenders hanging off him and scoring in the corner, and although we won’t be seeing the latter of those very often, it’s good to know he has it in his locker!
Instead we’re more likely to see Arhip’s mobility put to use on the edge of the middle four in the 2-4-2 formation the forwards line up in during phase play. From there he can using his physicality as a one-out runner when the attack moves to the touchline, or his mobility to stretch into the outside channel.
That also puts him on the ball a fair bit, and although what we’ve seen above is what he can bring to the team, how he fits into the existing systems are equally as important.
We know from what has already been published about John Mulvihill and interviews with squad members so far this pre-season that the new head coach is keen on players having a high skill level.
Therefore he will no doubt be pleased to see Arhip slotting in at first receiver so comfortably, and in an attacking pattern that we’ve seen so often at the Arms Park where the forward acts as the pivot in the screen pass, either bringing in a forward outside him or sliding a pass out the back to the playmaker.
I, however, particularly enjoy seeing a tighthead prop clapping to get the scrum-half passing the ball to him quicker.
Despite his injury, Arhip is clearly still the player that Montpellier were all set to play £500,000 a season to play for them, and would have done had the Top14 governing body not stepped in and denied him permission to play.
21 games including 18 starts last season for the Ospreys are not the statistics of a player who is crocked, and if he’s showing off scrummaging like he did against Saracens, as well as bringing his all-round game to Cardiff, it could be some of the most astute business in recent years.
Coming up tomorrow, the Jason Harries winger train….