In the final of this summer’s series having a look at the new boys arriving at Cardiff Blues we focus on arguably the biggest signing of the summer, Samu Manoa.
The American international has spent seven years establishing himself as one of the best back row players in northern hemisphere club rugby across spells with Northampton Saints in the Gallagher Premiership, and Toulon in the Top14.
Personal accolades in the form of Northampton player of the year awards, Premiership team of the season inclusions and Rugby Player Association awards came, as did Premiership and Challenge Cup winners medals, but now it’s time to compete the European top league trifecta.
At 33 years old it’s not unfair to suggest Manoa is into the second half of his playing career, but it would be unfair to say he’s not as hungry to perform as he was when he arrived in England from San Francisco Golden Gate RFC back in 2011.
Were it not for some behind the scenes manoeuvring the Californian-born man would likely still be playing for French heavyweights Toulon, for whom he made 21 appearances across the Top14 and Heineken Cup last season, but instead will play his trade at the Arms Park.
The end goal for Manoa, as well as impressing for Cardiff Blues of course, is to win a spot in the US Eagles World Cup squad, with the player actually falling out with Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal over representing his national team during November and February/March.
Manoa has only played for his country six times since the last World Cup, but started all three June tests and will be keen to maintain some good form to ensure a spot on the plane to Japan next summer. So what can we bring to the Arms Park to do that? Well, one answer is plenty of power.
If there’s one thing that springs to mind when you think of Samu Manoa, it’s big carries and big hits. The montage video put out by Cardiff Blues when announcing his signing had plenty of them, and judging by the clips above which, as all the clips are in this blog, are from this season it seems he hasn’t lost any of that ball carrying ability.
Whether it’s in a more upright carrying position with a yard of space to get some pace up, or dipping the head and making the hard yards, Manoa will add another real carrying presence to the pack this season alongside Nick Williams, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi and George Earle.
He also isn’t afraid of making a big tackle or two in defence.
In defensive terms, just one big hit can change the momentum of a game immeasurably, taking the sting out of an attack and giving the defence a renewed impetus.
Manoa will become a key member of the squad defensively, whether lining up in the initial blitz or taking a spot slightly wider on the pitch, he can be effective, taking pressure of the likes of Turnbull, Navidi and Ellis Jenkins who regularly post big tackle numbers.
However, it’s not just all blood and thunder for the big American, there is a more dynamic side to his game too.
With John Mulvihill big on the skill level of his players, Manoa has the vision and ability to put others into space around him, capitalising on the defence being concerned about his carrying power.
It’s this which makes him the biggest threat as a multi-dimensional player, as well as his ability to move with a surprising amount of athleticism for a man that is famed for running opposition players over.
Manoa has the speed to get around the field, breaking up attacks in the wide channels and beating defenders to make extra yards, but it’s the third clip that is most interesting in the wider debate around the American’s arrival.
With Nick Williams already in place at the Arms Park, some have suggested it’s an odd move to bring in another non-Welsh qualified player in a similar position, but the clips from the matches against Bath above came from a Heineken Cup game in which Manoa played second row.
Now I don’t think lock is his natural position, but he can certainly feature there, having played in the four shirt for USA over the summer as well.
In my opinion, the best way to use Manoa will be as inter-changeable with Nick Williams during the Pro14 season. This allows us to manage the game time of both men, who are on the far side of 30, keeping them at their destructive best in the league.
Then, as European competition comes round and we require the added weight of both men in the pack, Manoa can slot into the second row, with his lineout jumping ability and mobility meaning we don’t lose anything by having a number eight playing at lock.
Of course, plans aren’t often worth the paper they’re written on, what with injuries and form likely to dictate team selection more than anything, but for Cardiff Blues to have top quality ball carrying options like Manoa and Williams in the squad at the same time is a luxury we haven’t been afforded in years.