Team Report: Second Row

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With the front row done and dusted over the last couple of days, having looked at loosehead, hooker and tighthead, we now shift backwards in the packs and into the second row.

Probably the most talked about position in the Cardiff Blues squad over the summer, as there was universal agreement that reinforcements were required, especially with the departure of Samu Manoa during the season, and then George Earle at the end of the campaign.

In the end though those reinforcements weren’t forthcoming, so we’re going to have to ask a lot of the players we have in ensuring our engine room offers enough to allow our talented back line to play the attacking rugby they are capable of.

We start with Seb Davies, who is at the start of his third season as a regular first team squad member, and already has over 50 appearances to his name across all competitions at the age of just 23.

However, by the high standards he set as he burst onto the scene in 2017/18, last season wasn’t exactly a vintage one for Davies, who struggled with consistency in areas of his game, and developed a worrying trend of conceding penalties for no-arms tackles.

As a result his exclusion from Warren Gatland’s Wales training squad ahead of the World Cup wasn’t a massive surprise when it was announced, no doubt leaving Seb with food for thought over the summer.

Seb Davies Cheetahs
Seb Davies will be looking to return to top form

Hopefully it will offer some motivation to return to the form of a year ago, as he has all the skills to be a top level second row, with his work-rate, athleticism and excellent skillset causing him to stand out from the rest. He could well be a key player this season if he can rediscover that form.

Joining him in the second row ranks is Rory Thornton, who has signed permanently for Cardiff Blues from Ospreys, having made 19 appearances in the Pro14 and Heineken Cup last season while on loan.

He initially struggled to make his mark at the Arms Park, and briefly dropped down to the Cardiff RFC setup to get some minutes under his belt, but returned to the first team just after Christmas and steadily improving levels of performance secured him a regular starting spot by May.

At 6ft7 his height and athleticism became valuable commodities to an otherwise poorly functioning lineout, while he regularly put in good numbers on the tackle count, however at 115kg he doesn’t provide that physical grunt we are searching for.

In respect to that attribute, John Mulvihill is going to have to look into the squad and ask some players who were very much on the periphery last season to step up and do a job.

James Down only spent 82 minutes on the field in a Cardiff Blues jersey last season, instead turning out mostly for Cardiff RFC as he played eight times for the Blue and Blacks in the second half of the campaign.

James Down Fa'ao Filise Pau
James Down could be in line for a return to regular first team rugby

However, the soon-to-be 32-year-old has a wealth of experience, with a combined 243 appearances between both teams, as well as a season spent at London Welsh, and is still in excellent nick physically.

The official club website has him down as 122kg, which if he can maintain that could well be an option to provide that weight in the second row we are after, a replacement for George Earle if you like.

Another option is to class Macauley Cook as a full-time second row, switching him back to the position at which he came through the ranks, having rather been converted to an openside flanker as a senior player.

He would need to add some bulk, with the official club website having him down as 112kg, but we know he has the work rate ready to make an impact as a lock, so if he can bring that weight then he could be a real option.

Also a good lineout jumper, as well as a willing carrier, at 27 he’s at a good age to make that step up into the second row, and with 160 appearances to his name he has the experience and rugby brain to make it a seamless transition.

Finally, this could be the season that Ben Murphy really makes his mark on the first team, having now spent just over a year training full-time with Cardiff Blues having returned to the fold at the back end of 2017/18.

Ben Murphy Cardiff Blues
Ben Murphy could well be set for a breakthrough season

A former Cardiff Blues academy player he was released at 18 and picked up by Merthyr, impressing enough to earn a full-time contract at the Arms Park, playing for Cardiff Blues A last September before appearing for Cardiff RFC and back at Merthyr as the Ironmen won the Premiership.

At 6ft5 and 120kg he has the attributes to be the man we need in the second row. A good pre-season and a strong Celtic Cup campaign will be key, before the 23-year-old can hopefully have a breakthrough season.

Behind them this year could well be an important one for Callum Bradbury, who will turn 22 at the start of the season but has only made a handful of Anglo-Welsh Cup appearances for Cardiff Blues to date.

At 6ft7 and listed as 110kg, he is in the Rory Thornton-mould of second rows, but could still have a role to play should he impress during the Celtic Cup, specifically in terms of his work at the set piece.

Anthony Cox will also be looking to make an impression having signed a short-term deal from Glamorgan Wanderers. The former Academy and Cardiff & Vale College player stands at 6ft9 and weighs around 120kg, with coach Martyn Fowler suggesting he can make it at the top level if he learns to ‘think like a pro player’.

Finally, although there are rumours regarding a potential departure, Teddy Williams is set to train full-time with the first team this season, as spoken about by John Mulvihill on Karl’s Podcast and mentioned in the recent Simon Thomas piece about the Cardiff Blues Academy for WalesOnline.

A highly regarded prospect in the second row, Williams started every game for Wales U20 in last season’s U20 Six Nations, and came off the bench twice in the World Rugby U20 Championship. He will be available for the U20s again next season.

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