100 Club: Leeeee-Loooooo

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The doors to the 100 Club have been thrown open again this weekend as Rey Lee-Lo reached the three-figure milestone when he started for Cardiff Blues against Pau.

On an evening where the on-field showing was so superb, as the home side ran in eight tries during a 54-22 rout in the European Challenge Cup, it was Lee-Lo and his family who stole the show as he made it to 100 appearances.

Many people may not have known about his disabled daughter before Saturday night, but to see both his daughters and his wife in the changing room before the game and with him as he entered the field of play was a really nice moment.

The suggestion is that it was his family being comfortable in the Vale of Glamorgan that convinced Lee-Lo to stay when his contract was set to expire at the end of the 2017/18 season, rather than head off to France where there was no doubt some big money deals would have been on the table.

This only goes to show the type of man he is, a quiet and shy type who shuns social media and interaction in general off the field, but is totally committed to his family and works hard for them on the field. All the qualities of a fine player from the Pacific Islands.

And what a player! The fact that there was Top14 sides after his services underlines the reputation he has in the game, as a centre of sheer quality.

Since arriving at the Arms Park after the Rugby World Cup 2015, Lee-Lo has been almost an ever present in the Cardiff Blues side, making at least 20 appearances in each full season he has been at the club.

His importance to the team is reflected in the fact that he has started 95 of the 100 games he has played for us to date, becoming the basis upon which the backline has been built around in the last four years.

While the likes of Rhys Patchell, Gareth Anscombe, Alex Cuthbert, Tom James and Cory Allen have come and gone in the time he has been here, his reliable presence has ensured an air of continuing quality in the midfield.

A quite remarkable ability to make metres every time he carries the ball, through a combination of stepping and sheer power to make ground after contact, makes him a go-to man in the Cardiff Blues back line.

It also makes him as dangerous without the ball as he is with it, as opposition defenders have to bite on a dummy line from his outside centre spot such is his threat, leaving space out wide for the back three to work in to.

22 tries in 100 appearances puts him 10th on the Cardiff Blues post-2003 top try scorer list, with his nine tries in the 2018/19 season putting him third for the season within the Arms Park.

While many supporters will be keen to point out Lee-Lo’s attacking prowess though, it is defensively where we see the full value of having the Samoan in the team.

Although not the most obvious leader on the pitch in terms of screaming and shouting, he quietly goes about his business as a senior member of the squad. First to congratulate players winning turnovers at the breakdown, or the forwards after a big scrum.

Then in open play he leads by example, setting the line with his positioning and the tone with his line speed and spot blitzing.

Lee-Lo is just a part of a long line of fine centres that have graced the home changing room at the Arms Park; from Rhys Gabe and Gwyn Nicholls in the early days, to Jack Matthews and Bleddyn Williams in the post-war period, and Mark Ring in the 90s.

More recently though many of the great centres playing for Cardiff have been overseas stars; Pieter Muller, Casey Laulala and Willis Halaholo, as well as Rey Lee-Lo of course.

That doesn’t mean to say that there haven’t been Welsh stars. The likes of Tom Shanklin, Jamie Roberts and the aforementioned Allen have all come through and excelled, but it is likely that each has taken something from the non-Welsh qualified midfielders they played alongside.

This tradition of overseas talent assisting home grown potential will now continue as while Lee-Lo was making his 100th appearance last weekend, Ben Thomas was making his first Cardiff Blues start, with the young Welshman talking in the week about the importance of having his Samoan centre partner there to assist him.

The rumour is that the new funding model agreed for Welsh regional rugby cuts down even further the budget for non-Welsh qualified players, but I cannot disagree with that more if I tried.

Rey Lee-Lo has done good for himself, his family, the Cardiff Blues and Welsh rugby, upholding traditions of overseas players at the Arms Park, specifically the Pacific Islanders who have brought so much to the Arms Park.

At 32 he only seems to be getting better, here’s to a few more years of brilliance at outside centre!

One comment

  1. Great player absolute backbone of the region. So pleased the family are settled here. More respected and appreciated than he would ever know.

    Like

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