Analysis: Hurricane Harri

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The last few months have thrown up quite the mixed bag in the already weird and wonderful world that is Cardiff Blues.

There was getting hammered by Glasgow Warriors in the league, going toe-to-toe with Saracens over two games, beating the Scarlets at their place, a flat loss to the Ospreys and then finishing the Heineken Champions Cup campaign with a spirited performance back at Glasgow and a home win over Lyon.

Throughout the fixture block there were positive stories; the amount of homegrown players regularly making the matchday squad, the gradual improvement of the defence as it returned to last season’s levels and claiming three try bonus points in four games.

Perhaps the greatest headline was an individual one though, as Harri Millard announced his arrival as a serious player in midfield, and future starting Cardiff Blues centre.

Before the start of the fixture block the 22-year-old had yet to make a start outside the Anglo-Welsh Cup after just over three seasons around the first team, but since coming off the bench against Glasgow in the Pro14 he has made five starts for John Mulvihill, visibly growing in confidence on each occasion.

Some have even suggested Wales honours could be on the horizon, but while they are still a little distance off yet, there is no doubt that the former Mountain Ash youngster is pushing the more experienced Rey Lee-Lo and Willis Halaholo, as well as the established Garyn Smith, all the way in the centre stakes.

Defensively is where Millard has surprised me personally the most, with a tackling technique straight out of the rugby textbook that brings the player down early.

This suits the Cardiff Blues defensive style perfectly, offering ample opportunity for teammates to jackal and go for the turnover, or at least slow the opposition attack down.

However it also prevents dangerous attacks, as in the second clip where a player the calibre of Stuart Hogg is brought down with the try line beckoning. A superb piece of tackling that any young player should aspire towards in terms of technique.

More than his tackle technique though, Harri Millard has the much sought after ability of reading the game brilliantly from outside centre and make defensive plays effectively and consistently.

Solely by his actions in the first clip he is able to secure a turnover as the Glasgow players are forced to turn inside due to the position he takes up, but both of the other clips combine positioning with tackling.

Hits off different shoulders see the ball either go to ground or the ball carrier left exposed for a turnover, or at the very least a slowing down of the attack.

As someone who has watched Millard come through the ranks and thought of him more as a winger long-term, this skill has been a more than pleasant surprise and cemented his position as a more than viable midfield option.

I think you could probably forgive me for thinking Millard would become a winger however, when you look at the out-and-out speed that he possesses.

He not only has an impressive top speed, but the short burst acceleration is a real weapon as mainly evidenced in the try scored away at Glasgow in the Heineken Cup, scampering down a narrow corridor to bear the covering defender.

That speed puts him two positions whereby his distribution skills need to be spot on, and the young centre has certainly evidenced he has the ability to move the ball well.

Whether it’s in the first two clips, as Millard gets into good positions on the outside of the line before drawing the defender and putting the winger into space, or in a tighter midfield where the deft hands find an inside man for a half-break, he has the playmaking abilities as well as the speed.

As his reputation grows and defenders get closer to him with ball in hand, the ability to bring others into the game will become a crucial one, as will putting both speed and awareness together to make plays like this.

Until that man-marking starts regularly though, we can enjoy Millard running beautiful short lines of the playmakers inside him.

With his pace and balance hitting the line at that angle it is a devastating combination that sees him slice through opposition defences.

Unless the defender has his shoulders set perfectly then Millard is likely to break a tackle as a weak inside shoulder is particularly susceptible, while the outside shoulder has to be exceptionally strong to stop him in his tracks.

Of course he then has the pace to push the line break as far up the pitch as possible, and the awareness to bring players into play around him, but it’s where the last clip comes from that is interesting, or more accurately who it comes from.

If you absolutely love dead rubber Anglo-Welsh Cup games then you may remember this encounter between Cardiff Blues and Worcester Warriors at the Arms Park from January 2017.

We went down 38-53 in the end, but two tries for Harri Millard, playing on the wing but keen to get into midfield and support, were assisted by Jarrod Evans, cementing a partnership that had come through the pathway together.

With the likes of Tomos Williams, Garyn Smith, Aled Summerhill and Owen Lane around them in the backline, all of whom have moved through the academy system at roughly the same time, there is a very exciting homegrown backs division developing at the Arms Park.

After the last few weeks Harri Millard could well become a central figure in that backline as Cardiff Blues look to return to the big time of European rugby and conquer the Guinness Pro14 play-offs.

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