January means many things. Gym memberships, post-Christmas detox, bleak weather, overdrafts and plenty of your favourite ‘New Year, New Me’ Instagram posts.
In rugby terms though it means transfer silly season is properly underway, and for Cardiff Blues it could be the most exciting one for some time as, for the first time in three years, we know our budget and have a head coach in place before the end of April.
With a slight increase to that budget, a change in the way funding is distributed in Wales and some players departing this summer, John Mulvihill will have some room to bring in a few new faces, and with the impression that the squad is only four or five players away from being very competitive that gives us a fantastic opportunity.
So ahead of transfer silly season getting going, I’ve had a look at where Cardiff Blues could really do with recruiting ahead of the 2020/21 campaign.
This is a position that some Cardiff Blues supporters may have forgotten about strengthening, with particularly Rhys Gill and Corey Domachowski having impressive seasons so far, while Brad Thyer continues to be a reliable asset to call upon.
However, that is the full extent of the depth we have at the number one jersey this season. If we had suffered the two injuries we’ve had at tighthead prop then Mulvihill would be in serious trouble.
Theo Bevacqua is a promising looking signing for the future, but he will still be a year or two off playing first team rugby next season, therefore bringing a loosehead prop should be towards the top of the priorities list.
Need Rating: High
Whereas loosehead prop has a quantity issue, hooker has plenty of that but not the same quality as it’s front row counterpart, with four first team hookers seeing game time this season but none really nailing down the number two jersey.
The issue is that at least three of them have the same attributes, with Kris Dacey, Kirby Myhill and Liam Belcher all being converted back rowers. They are busy around the field and offer plenty in open play, but leave a lot to be desired at the scrum and when lineout throwing.
Mulvihill may well be keen to add some additional heavyweight quality in the number two jersey, trying to fill the gap left by Matthew Rees, but perhaps dependent on how Iestyn Harris and Cameron Lewis are viewed as they make their way through the development pathway.
Need Rating: Medium
This one is a slight curveball as its inclusion on the list comes solely down to whether Dmitri Arhip will still be a Cardiff Blues player next season or not. If he stays, then there is no need to sign a tighthead.
If he heads for pastures new then the need may arise, depending on how Will Davies-King and Ben Warren are viewed by the coaches. If they feel one or both can step up then Dillon Lewis, Scott Andrews and Keiron Assiratti as senior tightheads could well be enough to be competitive.
However, if neither are capable of stepping up then bringing in a replacement tighthead, potentially with the some Eastern European grunt, would be advisable.
Need Rating: Low (with Arhip), Medium (without Arhip)
Slightly changing the words of a well-known shop’s marketing strapline, it’s not just any second row, it’s a physical specimen of a second row we need.
Seb Davies and James Ratti provide a more mobile option who carries well and is a good lineout option, while Josh Turnbull and Macauley Cook can do a similar job when stepping in from blindside flanker.
We are short a destroyer of a second row, maybe two, though, someone who adds weight to the scrum, can bring a physical edge in maul defence and generally add a spiteful edge to our carrying, tackling and breakdown game.
Need Rating: High
In a similar vein to second row, we should also be in the market for a bullocking number eight who can bring a similarly physical edge to our play around the park, but in particular the carrying game.
Nick Williams may well retire at the end of the season, and even if he doesn’t his playing time will need to be managed as he comes towards the end of his career, therefore getting a replacement in is something that Mulvihill should be seriously looking at.
Need Rating: High
Adding a body here is something to look at for reasons of depth, with only Jarrod Evans and Jason Tovey realistically viewed as senior 10s at this point, as well as for reasons of competition, with a feeling that maybe Evans is a bit too secure in the starting job at the moment.
With Evans also likely to be away with the Wales squad increasingly over the coming years, adding another senior quality fly-half should be an aim to ensure we have the ability to compete all-season long, with the months of November and February/March so crucial when it comes to the Pro14.
If Ben Thomas is going to be fast-tracked towards the fly-half spot for next season then the need isn’t quite as pressing, but if he remains as a centre then getting someone in should be near the top of the list.
Need Rating: Medium (with Thomas as a 10), High (with Thomas as a 12)
On the face of it the midfield isn’t a position that obviously needs addition, but I’ve added this as an area of the field to maybe think about on a longer term level.
Rey Lee-Lo will be 33 by the summer, Willis Halaholo could be out until Christmas 2020 or even longer such is the unpredictable nature of an ACL reconstruction, Ben Thomas is seen as a fly-half long-term and there are increasing question marks over Garyn Smith and Harri Millard as they see their game time rapidly decreasing.
While not a priority or even close to it, if the right player were to be available then John Mulvihill may well consider bringing in a new centre.
Need Rating: Low