When Liam Belcher was released by the Cardiff Blues Academy in the summer of 2017 and signed for Pontypridd, it seemed his professional rugby career might be at risk of slipping away.
He had captained the Cardiff Blues U18 side, appeared for Wales U20 at the Junior World Championship and bided his time playing Premiership rugby and in the British and Irish Cup, but as finances tightened at the Arms Park he was shown the door, which opened in Sardis Road, briefly.
Fortunately for Belcher he was picked up as part of the Bernard Jackman revolution at the Dragons to the East, and while other ringers came and went, the young hooker managed to maintain a steady role in and around the matchday 23.
He made 15 appearances in all competitions, including Pro14 starts against Ulster, Scarlets and Glasgow, scoring an impressive five tries along the way, deputising admirably for Elliott Dee when the young star was away with the Welsh setup or injured.
However, as Jackman nailed down his squad for a second season of promised improvement, the arrival of Richard Hibbard from Gloucester saw Belcher slide down the pecking order until once again a change in Welsh rugby, this time to the regional level as a whole, offered him a new opportunity.
Belcher is a perfect example of how the new regional A teams can offer players a chance to develop in a professional environment when they may have found themselves struggling to earn a professional contract in Wales. Dropping to the Premiership or heading to the English Championship instead.
At 22 he is exactly the type of player who should be playing a major role in the Cardiff Blues A side, and he has clearly impressed over the summer enough to come off the bench in pre-season against Leicester Tigers at the Arms Park.
He has subsequently started both A team games so far, the pre-season friendly against Scarlets and Celtic Cup opener against Dragons, captaining the side in the last encounter after Alun Lawrence withdrew late on.
He’s not the biggest hooker that has ever played the game, but along with the aforementioned Dee he’s bucking a trend as forwards become more mobile with rugby moving away from the gym monkeys of the last 10 years.
If it doesn’t work out in this second stint at the Arms Park, the A team system will then produce a much higher quality player who can either improve the standard of the Premiership or stand him in better stead to forge a professional career elsewhere in the rugby world.
Belcher returned to Cardiff Blues with little fanfare this summer, but is starting to make an impression with his actions on the field. I look forward to tracking his progress.