Team Report: Loosehead

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The Team Report is back in style for the 2019/20 season, as I take a position-by-position look at the Cardiff Blues squad assembled to compete in the Guinness Pro14 and European Challenge Cup.

With recruitment and retention seemingly done and dusted for the time being, and the Cardiff Blues squad that will go through pre-season and into the early part of the campaign confirmed, it is now time to take stock and analyse where the strengths and weaknesses lie.

We start, as always, up front and with the number one jersey, where loosehead prop has quality but arguably not enough depth to go the full season.

After signing a new contract, when at one point it appeared he would be moving on or even bringing his playing days to an end, Rhys Gill leads the loosehead ranks as he prepares to get an incredible 15th season underway, having made his Cardiff Blues debut in 2005/06.

His 19 appearances last season mean his overall total is now 64 in all competitions, while there was over 130 games for Saracens during a spell in North London during which time he became a Gallagher Premiership and Heineken Cup winner.

That experience will be vital as a loosehead, in the front row and in the squad generally, as we turn to senior players to guide through what is an undoubtedly talented crop of young players over the next year or two.

Rhys Gill Edinburgh
Rhys Gill is the experienced head up front

Challenging him for the starting role this season will again be Brad Thyer, who made his most starts in a season with 11 across league and European competition in 2018/19, but still isn’t quite nailing down a first team spot.

At 26 he’s approaching the prime of his career as a prop, and this year could well define where the rest of his playing days go. If he can find a consistency in his performance levels he could be a very good loosehead as a strong scrummager and with ability to get around the field, but if he fails to make his mark then he could soon find himself relegated to squad player.

With 62 appearances to his name he has plenty of experience at a fairly young age still, and that could be key with Gethin Jenkins and Rhys Carre no longer on the books as players going into this campaign.

As one, or two, doors close, another opens though, and with Jenkins and Carre’s departures I think it could well leave an opening for Corey Domachowksi to have a serious breakthrough season.

Between injury and the form of others, Domachowski hardly got a look-in on the first team last season, instead playing regularly for Pontypridd in the Premiership and proving that he is now far too good to be turning out at that level.

Corey Domachowski Pau
Corey Domachowski could be set for a proper breakout season

However, across 22 games in the league and Europe between 2016 and 2018 he showed more than enough potential to get excited about his future, and as he turns 23 at the start of the season, it is the perfect time for him to start to realise that potential.

Standing at 6ft and weighing close on 120kgs, he has plenty of upper body strength in order to be an excellent scrummager should he get his technique right, and appears to enjoy the physical side of the game, whether that be carrying or in the tackle.

The concern generally for loosehead though is that with only three senior options there isn’t enough depth to last the season, in what is a clearly attritional position.

We already know that Gill has undergone shoulder surgery over the summer and is in a race to be fit for the start of the season, leaving just Thyer and Domachowski shouldering the workload, putting further strain on them.

Garyn Phillips is a prospect coming through the system, having played for Wales U19 this season and preparing to join the Wales U20 group next season, but having not long turned 18 it would be a big risk to ask him to step up into senior rugby.

Perhaps this is a position that John Mulvihill will be keeping an eye out for reinforcements after the Rugby World Cup draws to a close.

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