Team Report: Centre

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As the Team Report edges towards its conclusion, we look to the midfield having analysed those players on the inside at half-back over the last two days.

Last season it was a key area as our first phase strike plays became lethal, with many of them revolving around the centres to create space for the back three players out wide, and allowing the fly-half to slide wider as well.

While we have seen Jack Roberts depart for pastures new over the summer, the core elements of our midfield ranks have stayed the same, starting with the Cardiff Rugby Life 2018/19 Player of the Year, Rey Lee-Lo.

The Samoan had a scintillating campaign last time out, scoring eight tries in 19 games, and averaging 4.5 metres per carry across 181 carries, an average of 37 metres per game. Impressive indeed.

Unfortunately we will be without Lee-Lo during the early part of the season, as he represents Samoa at the Rugby World Cup, but when he returns it will be a welcome boost to the midfield ranks.

At 32 he is showing no signs of slowing down, with his leadership particularly in defence a key aspect of our play. Another big season from the Samoan will do just nicely, for club and country.

Rey Lee-Lo Connacht
Rey Lee-Lo was in great form last season

In his absence we look to Willis Halaholo to lead the centres, as he comes into the 2019/20 season with Welsh qualification on the horizon and the opportunity to compete for a role in a red jersey.

To do that the 29-year-old will have to improve on the consistency of his performances from last season as, although there are times where he is unplayable, with Munster at home coming to mind, there are also occasions where he can go missing in games.

One way to help ensure that consistency, which hopefully the coaches are considering, is to slightly reduce the playmaking workload on Halaholo and increase his carrying workload, where his footwork, power and speed can so often cause defences problems.

Battling it out to join him in the centre during the World Cup period, and to put pressure on him and Lee-Lo longer term, are two young Welsh midfielders with plenty of potential but different qualities.

Garyn Smith probably didn’t quite have the 2018/19 he’d have hoped as, despite making the same amount of appearances with 22 as the season before, he only started nine games as opposed to 17.

It’s perhaps a case of not knowing exactly which slot in the centre is his best position yet, having broken into the first team at 13, but looking like being more suited to playing 12 in the future.

He has certainly bulked up a good amount since he began appearing regularly for Cardiff Blues, and if he can show off a good level of carrying he could well be a more than solid option at inside centre, where we may see him feature for Cardiff Blues A.

garyn smith ospreys 3
Garyn Smith will be looking for more starts this season

Another reason for his lack of game time last season was the emergence of Harri Millard as a first team option, with his first starts in the Pro14 and also making his European debut, becoming a regular fixture in the 23 during the second half of the season.

A really exciting option at outside centre, he has pace to burn and an eye for a gap, linking up particularly well with Jarrod Evans, who he came through the development pathway with.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of his breakthrough was his defensive work though, as he showed off an excellent reading of the game to step up and spot blitz from 13. A difficult skill to master but one the Cardiff Blues defence relies heavily upon.

The four aforementioned players will play the biggest roles in the midfield over the coming season, but there may well be other faces appearing in the 12 or 13 jerseys from time-to-time.

From the outside backs, Owen Lane and Aled Summerhill both featured at outside centre as they came through the academy system, with both certainly possessing the attacking qualities to slot in, although there are questions waiting to be answered defensively.

Aled Summerhill Munster
Aled Summerhill might be a candidate to move to outside centre

New signing Hallam Amos has also worn 13 at the Dragons from time-to-time, and the Welsh management may be keen to take a look at him there as the national team struggles without an obvious replacement for Jon Davies when he is unavailable.

Then from the pathway there is talent coming through in the centre, with last year’s Specsavers Cup winning partnership for Cardiff RFC both being academy members.

Ben Thomas was mentioned in the fly-half section of the Team Report as someone who can feature at both 10 and 12, with this season being an interesting one for him and where he is seen as playing long-term.

Meanwhile Max Llewellyn can feature at either 12 or 13, and will be looking to kick-on in his development having graduated the Wales U20 setup.

Certainly plenty of talent in the midfield for new backs/attack coach Richie Rees to work with. If we can get them firing on phase play as well as they worked on first and second phase ball last season, we’ll have an attack to rival anyone.

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