When looking at the Cardiff RFC squad ahead of 2019/20 season, it’s noticeable that there are 18 new faces as Steve Law works his recruiting magic to push the Blue and Blacks to the next level.
That appears to constitute quite a major upheaval, certainly by professional rugby standards, but at this semi-professional level that’s not completely out of the ordinary. With the vast majority of players only contracted for a single year, numerous squad changes are fairly common.
Indeed, Cardiff retaining 14 of last year’s squad is good going, and provides enough consistency in the heart of the team so that the group stands a chance of gelling quickly and getting the season off to a good start in September.
To do that they will require some stand out performances from key men in important positions. I’ve had a look who, of the new and returning players, Blue and Blacks supporters should be keeping an eye on when it comes to leading us to success.
The former Ospreys age grade player and RGC hooker steps into the sizeable void left by club captain Joey Tomlinson, as the Arms Park favourite heads off to explore new opportunities on and off the field in Canada.
At 25 he is still in the first half of his career, but has plenty of Indigo Group Premiership experience, having spent three years in North Wales, and was co-captain at Parc Eirias last season.
Much of Cardiff’s good form in 2018/19 was built from one of the best set pieces in the league, particularly the lineout and maul. If Yardley can play his part to carry this into the new campaign then the Blue and Blacks can continue to challenge at the top of the table.
A returning face and a real unsung hero of last year’s successful season, the second row made 24 appearances in all competitions after signing from Bridgend Ravens.
Standing up at round 6ft5, Martin is a hugely influential cog in the lineout function, the go-to jumper and regularly finding himself organising a push over maul from inside the opposition 22, but also gets through a huge amount of breakdown work around the field.
With a number of different second row partners for company last season he provided a level of consistency in the engine room, but with the signing on Scott Andrews from Cross Keys this season, hopefully he can be part of a strong partnership in the middle of the pack.
Now here’s a player I still think could do more than a job for Cardiff Blues, should he wish to step up, but as he’s happy playing in the Premiership he will continue to be a real talisman for Cardiff RFC next season.
He scored a huge 15 tries in 30 games last season, with countless big carries both through the middle and in the wider channel, as well as being a real leader in defence. With Allen we look almost unbeatable.
Although he’s been around for a while he’s still only 29 so has a few years of playing left in him, and if the Blue and Blacks continue to manage him well and get him out on the field regularly, the opportunity to challenge at the top will be there.
With the aforementioned departure of Joey Tomlinson, the role of club captain could be given to the fly-half for next season, who deputised for the hooker in a few games last season.
He also enjoyed what was arguably his best year in a Blue and Black jersey, with 26 wins from 34 games, as well as seven tries and 124 goal kicks, Thompson’s 317 points were crucial, as he took his personal Cardiff tally to 774 points.
His style fits perfectly with the first paced attacking style that Law wants to see being played, while he also has the experience to know when to put boot to ball, and despite his diminutive stature, he is a more than capable defender at this level.
Centre is probably the area of the field that has seen the most change at the Arms Park, with Adam Jones heading for Newport, Will Rees-Hole taking a year out from playing and Ben Thomas stepping up to the Cardiff Blues first team.
As a result Steve Law has recruited heavily in the midfield, and while Sam Beard takes the headlines, Nightingale is my man to watch as the 22-year-old looks to reach the potential shown as made his way through the Dragons pathway and was involved with Wales U20.
He has also been selected for Wales Sevens, and the elusive carrying skills picked up there should fit in perfectly in a midfield which loves to make line breaks. If he can get over the gain line more than he can’t, it gives Cardiff a great chance to continue to be an attacking threat.
Picking just one player to watch in the back three is difficult, with Joe Gatt and Mathew Powell still involved, as well as James Beal returning from injury, but this man made a huge impression after arriving from Neath in November.
A stunning 19 tries in 22 games saw him light up not only the Arms Park, but the Premiership as a whole, with his performances catching the eye of many supporters at grounds around Wales.
Although not entirely consistent in his execution, when he gets it right he can open up any match, and it’s that ability which draws supporters in. If Howley is on form more than he’s not, Cardiff have always got a chance to win.