Team Report: Back Three

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The Team Report for the 2019/20 season draws to a close with a look at what is arguably the strongest area of the backs, and only beaten by the back row in the entire squad.

Cardiff Blues’ back three ranks have probably seen the greatest amount of upheaval over the summer, with three senior players and two youngsters departing for pastures new, while two new faces have arrived at the Arms Park.

Of those departures, two in particular were of respected senior players and fan favourites, as Blaine Scully’s contract ended a year early as he prepared for a World Cup campaign with the USA Eagles, while record try scorer Tom James moved on and signed with the Scarlets.

To replace them though, John Mulvihill has done what he stated he wanted to do from early in his time as Cardiff Blues head coach, and signed quick, high quality international back three players.

The first of those, in Josh Adams, is a particularly excellent signing, as he arrives after two years of being one of the best wingers in the Gallagher Premiership with Worcester Warriors, and having broken into the Wales team where he lit up the 2019 Six Nations.

Fast gaining a reputation as one of the best finishers in the game, he combines speed with power and balance, but a smart rugby brain that allows him to appear in midfield at the right moment, as well as footballing and high ball ability that sees him comfortable enough to cover full-back.

Although he will almost certainly be missing with Wales for the duration of the Rugby World Cup, his arrival in late November/early December will surely add extra impetus to a season that has hopefully got off to a good start.

Josh Adams Scotland
Josh Adams was one of Wales’ standout players last season

The second new international quality addition is Hallam Amos, who arrives having switched across the wetlands from the Dragons, where he has spent the last eight years, playing 115 times and scoring 36 tries in the process.

A more athletic and elusive runner than Adams, the 24-year-old may well find himself spending more time at full-back for Cardiff Blues, although he can also play on the wing and cover outside centre if required.

Another intelligent player, if he is utilised at 15 he could be the all-action full-back we’ve been missing for a few years, providing more defensive security than Matthew Morgan, but still with a high level of counter-attacking threat.

Whether he goes to Japan remains to be seen, but hopefully whether selected or not he remains fit enough to reach his undoubted potential, having struggled with injuries over the last two-to-three years.

That question mark over if Amos is selected in the final 31-man squad or not comes as he is one of four players seemingly battling it out for an available back three spot, with another competitor in that battle being new team-mate Owen Lane.

The 21-year-old had another superb season during 2018/19, scoring 11 tries in 18 games across all competitions, cementing his reputation as one of the hottest properties in world rugby at the moment.

Had it not been for injury he would almost certainly have been selected in the Wales squad to tour the Americas last summer, and probably in the Autumn Internationals too, but now he’s fit and firing and in with a great chance of being a World Cup squad bolter.

Owen Lane Connacht
Owen Lane had another superb Cardiff Blues campaign

Lane’s wing partner for much of last season was Aled Summerhill, who really got a chance to shine after some stop-start involvement in previous years, and took it with aplomb.

10 tries in 15 games across all competitions caught the eye of many outside the Arms Park, as the 24-year-old’s searing pace was on the end of much of Cardiff Blues’ excellent first phase strike plays, while he also filled in confidently at full-back against Edinburgh and Kings.

His performances even sparked talk of a spot in the Wales pre-World Cup training squad, but while that didn’t come to fruition, he is now set to be a key member of the Cardiff Blues squad during the World Cup period under new attack coach Richie Rees.

Another man who will form a key part of the back three during the early part of the season will be Matthew Morgan, who had arguably his best year with Cardiff Blues last time out, playing 22 times in all competitions and noticeably improving his defensive work.

Starting his fourth year at the Arms Park, and with 74 total appearances, the 27-year-old is now a more senior member of the squad, and as he potentially will be asked to step in at fly-half at some point next season, his leadership abilities will be key.

Of course, his counter-attacking ability is still what sets him apart on the field though, and that was still prevalent in the recent campaign, with the try scored away at Saracens a particular stand-out moment.

Completing the senior back three ranks are two players to turn to when you require a solid performance no matter what, the kind of squad players that the top teams rely on to produce the goods when called upon.

Matthew Morgan Saracens
Matthew Morgan’s try against Saracens was one of the best of the season

Jason Harries had a good first season at the Arms Park last time out, scoring an impressive six tries in 17 games, as he held down a first team place early in the campaign before injury saw him struggle to re-gain a starting spot later on.

However, his ‘try’ against Connacht could well have been season defining but for an incompetent referee and TMO combination, and showed off his undoubted finishing ability.

If he can develop his wider game then the 29-year-old can continue to push to be a serious asset to the squad this coming season, where every player will likely be utilised across the nine months.

Fan favourite Dan Fish will be one of those players as he looks to improve on his eight appearances for Cardiff Blues last season, instead largely featuring for Cardiff RFC in their successful league and cup campaign.

Having recovered from the horror hamstring tear that kept him out for around 18 months, Fish is now back up and running, although where he features long-term will be interesting to keep an eye on.

The injury has seemingly cost him a yard of the electric pace that underpinned his play beforehand, and while he’s still a full-back by trade, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him utilised as a fly-half more during the Cardiff Blues A campaign and beyond.

Dan Fish Cardiff Blues A
Dan Fish could be making the move from full-back to fly-half

Into the youngsters and putting pressure on Fish, and indeed Morgan and Amos as the next year or two goes on, will be full-back Ioan Davies, fresh from impressing with Wales U20 and the World Rugby U20 Championship.

The former Glantaf pupil has caught the eye at every level he’s played so far, from regional age grade, to Wales U18, into Wales U20, for Cardiff RFC at Premiership level and turning out for Cardiff Blues in an international friendly against Uruguay.

With the potential to be a complete full-back, he is defensively switched on and can cover the back field well, solid under the high ball, and has an eye for a gap with a turn of pace to motor through it.

A big Cardiff Blues A campaign awaits for Davies, before he can then hopefully push on for some first team minutes.

We also continue to hope for the healthy return to action of Rhun Williams, which will be a big boost when it does come after 18 months out with a nerve injury in his shoulder at the time of writing, while Alex Varney is the remaining academy winger, having signed from Scarlets and played BUCS Super Rugby for Cardiff University.

Despite the upheaval, back three still has a huge amount of quality and depth to work with, which hopefully Richie Rees, like with the centres, can get working on attacking phase play, and make us a proper attacking weapon in all aspects of the game.

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