Although not a total surprise, the announcement that Tom James will be leaving the Arms Park this summer is still a disappointment as it always is when someone who has become part of the Cardiff Blues fabric departs.
Amazingly it’s been 11 years since he made his bow at the famous ground, but it only seems like yesterday a skinny winger with almost freakishly long legs made his first break off the left wing and stepped past the full-back to cross the line.
Since then he has gone on to become a legend on the field, regularly leading the try scorer list to the extent that his 60 tries in all competitions are so far out in front as Cardiff Blues leading try scorer since 2003, it’s going to be a few years yet and take another special player for it to be topped.
Over time he developed into a complete winger, and one who was very much at the centre of the role of the winger changing from that amateur/early professional idea of the ‘finisher’ out wide to the all-action roving running threat.
His ability to appear in midfield, produce a killer step and accelerate through a gap became a key weapon as Cardiff Blues became a force in Europe, taking us to an Anglo-Welsh Cup win, a Challenge Cup win and a Heineken Cup semi-final.
Throughout these years it is almost criminal that he didn’t win more Wales caps, but the national team’s loss was undoubtedly our gain as James graced the Arms Park on more occasions that he should have, scoring a try in every Pro12/Pro14 campaign for 10 years either side of his spell in Exeter.
There have been some very memorable moments as he got sent off for a headbutt away at Gloucester before getting his own back on part-time actor Olivier Azam a few months later in the 2009 Anglo-Welsh Cup win, as well as the match-levelling score in ‘that game’ against Leicester (although we won’t talk about the kick).
Perhaps his most memorable moment will be off-the-field though, and not in a bad way at all as TJ opened up about his mental health battle during the 2017/18 campaign, taking some time away from rugby to deal with it.
In an ideal world this wouldn’t actually be something to commend him for, but such is the way with men not talking about their mental health, and especially in a sporting environment such as rugby, it was an incredibly brave step to open up publicly about depression.
The way he spoke, took some time away, and then battled back to once again start a Heineken Cup game against Glasgow earlier this year was an inspiration, as are his continuing efforts to raise awareness of and attempt to normalise the discussion around mental health.
It speaks volumes for the man that he has garnered so much respect throughout the rugby world and beyond, and it is fitting for someone who, aside from his talents and achievements on the field, is a thoroughly decent bloke.
You wouldn’t get away with playing for Cardiff, Pontypridd and Merthyr in the same season without being one!
I have no doubt that TJ can still perform at a high level, but exactly what is next for TJ remains to be seen. He will always have a warm welcome at the Arms Park no matter what though, as a bona fide member of the Cardiff Blues Legends club.