One to watch: Big Ben

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When it comes to Cardiff Blues gaining any success over the next few years, the vast majority of the squad is going to have to be developed from within.

No longer do we have the spending power to go out and sign overseas big hitters like Paul Tito, Xavier Rush or Casey Laulala, instead we must rely on the talent produced from the development pathway, sprinkling them with the occasional non-Welsh qualified signing.

That means in some areas of the field where we in Wales perhaps don’t produce players all too often, we’re going to have to take the chances of developing a talent when it is offered.

One of those positions is second row, but not just any second row, specifically a second row with the size to positively impact the set piece, as well as the ball carrying ability to get over the gain line, and the breakdown presence to secure quick ball.

It’s a lot to ask, but as we’re increasingly seeing in Northern Hemisphere rugby, having a high level of physicality in the front five is often the deciding factor. Just ask Cardiff Blues away at Munster and against Ospreys at Judgement Day.

Looking down the pathway from the Arms Park and there’s a few names that stick out in this respect; Teddy Williams who played for Wales U20 this summer, while Anthony Cox has been signed on a short-term deal for the Celtic Cup campaign after a season with Glamorgan Wanderers.

In the immediate future though there is one man in the Cardiff Blues setup who could step up into the first team, and that is Ben Murphy.

Listed on the Cardiff Blues website as 6ft5 and 120kg, Murphy has the frame to physically dominate around the field and across the two games watched for this piece he did that on plenty of occasions, with examples here of dominant solo tackles and ruck cleans.

Particularly the third clip is an excellent example of the power he can offer, if you watch the breakdown as the scrum-half gets the ball away he makes a complete mess of the attacking guards. A split second earlier and that’s a turnover opportunity.

What most Cardiff Blues supporters will be looking for will be ball carrying, as the first team, particularly in the second half of last season, struggled to develop a platform to play off during attacking phase play.

Often Murphy was utilised on the outside of the left hand carrying pod in a 1-3-3-1 formation, due to being more athletic than the older heads Merthyr have in Craig Locke and Phil Rees, meaning he was carrying into space rather than contact.

There’s still evidence of his carrying ability through contact though, and when he did pop up in central areas, there’s enough on show to suggest he could be a useful ball carrier at the Arms Park.

Murphy demonstrates there is a power to compliment his frame, particularly in the first and third clips where he takes on defenders in a physical battle and makes post-contact metres just to push his side forward.

What links all three clips though is the quick ball that results from each carry, allowing Merthyr to play fast-paced, front foot attacking rugby, something Cardiff Blues are always looking to do and will continue to aim for with the talent in our backline.

In attack is where his power was particularly prevalent, making yards regularly in the opposition 22, pushing Merthyr towards the try line and sucking in defenders, narrowing the opposition’s defensive line.

While the first and fourth clips are largely about the strength, upper body and from the leg drive, the body positions in the second and third clips are particularly impressive to get his shoulders into the chest of the defender.

Of course, all the clips above are taken from Premiership action, and while there is a step up in quality and physicality between the semi-professional and professional games, it is clear that Murphy is a step above this level.

Should a strong pre-season lead into a successful Celtic Cup campaign with Cardiff Blues A, then Murphy could well be putting his hands up for some Pro14 minutes early in the season and hopefully get the chance to impress.

With money tight and men this size hard to come by, hopefully John Mulvhill can take a chance on someone who could become the difference between another mid-table finish and the chance to push for the play-offs.


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