Following on from last week’s analysis of Ben Murphy after looking at the forwards in the Team Report, we now pick out a player to keep an eye on from the backs.
With plenty of talent coming through there is a battle get first team minutes this season, but one player in particular stands out as having the potential to play at the highest level, and that player is Ioan Davies.
The 19-year-old is fresh from an excellent Wales U20 campaign that saw him start all five of the games at the World Rugby U20 Championship in Argentina, having already impressed with Wales U18.
Now he is training full-time with Cardiff Blues and ready to make an impact on the first team, first appearing for Cardiff Blues A in the Celtic Cup, I’ve had a look at what he could bring the side.
The staple, if you like, of full-back play, particularly in the Northern Hemisphere, is ability to pluck a high ball out of the sky, and Davies shows he’s more than capable in this regard.
While he holds the ball well in the first clip, the second clip is impressive as he stays on his feet an extra second to allow supporting players to get back and secure possession, instead of being turned over by the two chasers.
In a similar fashion, he stays on his feet well in the third clip and has the awareness to offload, potentially creating a counter attack opportunity, or at least allowing an easier exit.
That solidity under the high ball stretches to his defensive work as well, as he reads the kick through and has the pace to get across and prevent the winger taking the kick-pass.
In terms of his tackling, while the stop on the winger is impressive, bringing down the marauding blindside flanker is a high class piece of defensive work, in terms of not buying the dummy and then the technique to chop him down.
Then it’s on to what Davies can do with ball-in-hand, and when it comes to counter-attacking there’s plenty of signs that he will develop to a very good returner of the ball.
It’s here that the comparisons with Leigh Halfpenny are particularly drawn, as well as the headwear and running style, as in the first and second clips there’s that low centre of gravity that allows him to get through a small gap or break a tackle.
However, the final clip will hopefully became a Ioan Davies trademark as he spots some forwards in the kick chase, turns on the afterburners with a little hitch-kick, and gets on the outside before almost releasing the winger.
Wrapping up his attacking game, as he hits the line from full-back that low-centre of gravity and abrasive carrying, mixed with some good footwork, allows him to make metres when they’re not obviously available in the first two clips.
It’s the final clip that is the most impressive though, as the defender half-blitzes before turning his head inside. Davies spots that and adjusts his angle to beat his opposite man on the inside shoulder and make a half-break.
All-in-all what we have on our hands is a young player mature beyond his years on the rugby field, both in attack and defence, with a high level basic skillset to work from.
The key will be developing that now, as well as his leadership from the back field, as he makes the step up to the first team over the summer, starting with taking a prominent role in the Cardiff Blues A team.
There will be areas of his game that will need to be assessed that we haven’t seen yet; his high ball skills with better chases and varying weather, whether he can be an option at first receiver as we like to use a full-back, and his footballing game as kicking the ball is much more common in senior professional rugby.
However, all the evidence on show so far is that Ioan Davies is a very talented young man, and is one to get excited about on the terraces of the Arms Park.