Team Report: Back Three

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The Team Report draws to a close for another season with a look at the men whose job it is to dominate the wide open spaces of a rugby pitch, the back three.

It’s an interesting time for the wingers and full-backs in the squad, with plenty of individual stories coming together to form an area of the pitch somewhat in transition at Cardiff Blues as John Mulvihill takes over.

We start with the man who will lead this band of merry backs into the new season, and simultaneously maintain his place as the ultimate cult hero in the Cardiff Blues squad, Blaine Scully.

The 30-year-old has been at the Arms Park for three seasons now and, although he got off to a slightly slow start, in the last two has become an integral member of the squad with nine tries in 34 games, including THAT finish against Scarlets, and the all-important final score against Gloucester

Blaine Scully Gloucester
Blaine Scully slides over in Bilbao

His sheer hard work, as well as his time for supporters off the field, have made him a favourite on the terraces. Scully may not be blessed with sheer pace or a wicked step, but his defensive ability as well as strength under the high ball make him an asset on top of his knack of producing excellent finishes in the corner.

Joining Captain America in the experienced stakes is Tom James, who has returned to pre-season training after some time away from the game during the second half of last season.

Now, there is no rush for TJ to come back to playing, but when the time comes it will be great to see the 31-year-old flying down the wing once again and adding to his mightily impressive 60 tries in 162 Cardiff Blues appearances so far.

Tom James Glasgow
It’ll be great to see TJ terrorising defences once again

James’ usual wing partner over the last few years has been Wales international Alex Cuthbert, but with the Big Horse moving on to Exeter Chiefs over the summer, there’s been a new addition to the back three ranks ahead of 2018/19.

Jason Harries probably won’t be the most well-known of names to many Cardiff Blues, but at 29 he comes in as an experienced members of the squad despite having only one season of top tier professional 15s rugby under his belt.

Three years spent touring the world with Wales 7s have given him exposure on an international stage though, and he’s done his hard graft in the English Championship with London Scottish.

At 6ft3 and over 16.5st, the 29-year-old has the size that John Mulvihill made it clear he wanted to add to his backline over the summer, and with an eye for the line from his 7s days, Harries could well be a shrewd acquisition if he gets a decent run in the team.

Jason Harries Cardiff Blues
Jason Harries is the only new addition to the back this summer

Switching to full-back for a moment, and as mentioned on the half-back report, Gareth Anscombe was the man who nailed down the 15 jersey at the back end of last season as part of a playmaker axis with Jarrod Evans at fly-half.

However, the man who finished the game in Bilbao at full-back, and made an important linebreak to put us inside the red zone, was Matthew Morgan capping off a good season.

The 26-year-old had a tough first season with us at the Arms Park, particularly defensively where he came in for some not entirely undeserved criticism. Credit where it’s due though, Morgan has made a noticeable improvement in this area in 2017/18 and the supporters have acknowledged that.

Add a step up in defence to his still devastating counter-attacking running, and Morgan is still a real option as the starting full-back. The debate remains though, is he better as a starter, or as an impact player off the bench as the game breaks up. In no way is it a bad thing, but I’d have him wearing 23 when possible.

Matthew Morgan Sale H 1
Matthew Morgan is still one of the best broken field runners in Europe

He will be pushed in the out-and-out full-back ranks this season by a returning Arms Park favourite, subject to injury. Dan Fish hasn’t started a game for Cardiff Blues since November 2016, after a serious hamstring injury kept him out for a year.

At one point there was concern whether he would come back at all when he picked up further injuries playing for Cardiff RFC and in the Anglo-Welsh Cup on his return in the first half of last season.

However, he comes into this pre-season off the back of seven Blue and Black games between February and April and with a new contract as Cardiff Blues put faith in his recovery. At 27 he has time to return to the professional game, and if he retains his sprint speed and good left foot he can still be a valuable squad member.

Those are the players in the middle of their career moving into the second half though, and this is where the back three area is in transition, in a sense that will also impact on the midfield eventually.

dan-fish-scarlets
Dan Fish will be hoping to return to professional rugby this season

As we looked at in the centre report, Owen Lane and Aled Summerhill have both played the majority of their rugby for Cardiff Blues on the wing so far in their careers, but have not hidden their desires to move inside at some point.

However, with the likes of Willis Halaholo, Rey Lee-Lo, Garyn Smith and Jack Roberts when he’s fit currently ahead of them in the rankings at centre, both players may have to be patient for this season.

There’s nothing wrong with that as Summerhill is only 23, and Lane just 20, and they both have the skillset to be more than successful in holding down starting places out wide.

We all saw what Lane could do last year as he combines a big frame with surprising speed to score six tries in 11 Pro14 games, while Aled Summerhill is a more classic winger in that he’s a natural runner, while is strong under the high ball from his days as a full-back in the Premiership.

Zebre Aled Summerhill 2
Aled Summerhill may have to stay patient on the wing for now

Joining them in the young player category is Harri Millard, who at 22 now needs to step up to the first team, and may find is way to do so is via the wing despite coming through the ranks as a centre.

Millard is another with pace to burn, and seems to link up well with Jarrod Evans, but will likely need to impress in the new Cardiff Blues U23/A team to catch the eye of John Mulvihill and get a crack in the Pro14.

With the likes of Rhun Williams, who is still trying to recover from a currently open-ended injury to his shoulder, as well as academy members Corey Howell, Ioan Davies, Alex Varney and George Thomas, all coming through the system too, the future for back three play at the Arms Park is looking very bright indeed.

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