Almost exactly a year ago, as we reached the culmination of recruitment ahead of the 2018/19 season, I tweeted this from @CardiffRugbyWeb;
Still absolutely chuffed with the signing of Samu Manoa. The squad is looking superbly balanced ahead of next season. Some terrific transfer work been done, although it would be less traumatic to get it done by March next season!
Well, as it turns out, pretty much none of that tweet has come to fruition!
Obviously Samu Manoa’s stint as a Cardiff Blues player was short lived as a family bereavement saw him return home to California just as he was about to make his debut, and on the back of that he was never able to settle, eventually mutually terminating his contract and heading over the Atlantic permanently.
Then by the end of the season it became apparent just how poorly balanced the squad was, with an exciting crop of backs struggling behind a noticeably lightweight forward pack, especially in crucial games out in Ireland.
Finally, we find ourselves here 12 months on, with large gaps in that forward pack ahead of the 2019/20 season. The trauma of waiting for signings is back!
With news coming out of the French media that George Earle is set to head for Colomiers in the ProD2 next season, and without confirmation that Rhys Gill, Rory Thornton and Nick Williams will be Cardiff Blues players next season, this is what I believe the forwards currently look like.
Loosehead – Brad Thyer, Corey Domachowski
Hooker – Kris Dacey, Ethan Lewis, Kirby Myhill, Liam Belcher
Tighthead – Dmitri Arhip, Dillon Lewis, Kieron Assiratti, Scott Andrews, Will Davies-King
Second row – Seb Davies, James Down, Macauley Cook, Ben Murphy, Callum Bradbury
Flanker – Ellis Jenkins, Josh Navidi, Olly Robinson, Josh Turnbull, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Jim Botham
Number eight – Alun Lawrence
In my opinion only tighthead and flanker are ideally placed for next season in that list, possessing both the depth and quality required to compete in the Pro14 and Europe, although even then there are question marks over flanker with Jenkins and Navidi likely to be with Team Wales more than they’re not.
Starting with loosehead and even if we do re-sign Gill then we ideally would need to add another player to the ranks. Three senior options would be a risk in such an attritional position, and the next academy prospect in Garyn Phillips has only recently turned 18.
Hooker does have enough depth with four senior options, as well as academy prospects Iestyn Harris and Cam Lewis, but as the constant chopping and changing of the starter this season tells us, John Mulvihill does not appear content with the options at his disposal.
Then it’s on to the second row and this is really becoming a problem area now, with the news that Earle will not be at the Arms Park next season.
Between the three senior players listed at lock, they have just 18 starts to cobble together across the Pro14 and Europe last season, the majority belonging to Davies as you might expect, with Murphy and Bradbury untested at the senior professional level.
If Thornton is signed permanently then that begins to plug the hole, but in the ideal world we would add two more experienced second rows as well as him to bring the depth and quality up to a competitive level.
Finally it’s number eight where, if we can re-sign Nick Williams, then another number eight would be ideal, but if that is blocked then the position is suddenly a top priority. Ironically, with our interest in Will Boyde reportedly cooling, the only way to fill the gap would be to look overseas.
Obviously some of the above is out of our hands thanks to the Welsh Rugby Union, and I’d like to hope that recruitment would have been done earlier but for Project Reset delays, but once again we find ourselves in May looking worriedly at the Cardiff Blues squad.
Season memberships should really have health warnings attached to them!