You do not have to be a die-hard Cardiff Blues supporter to know that there is a weakness up front in John Mulvihill’s squad at the moment. Watch any one of up to ten games from this season and it’s obvious that we need reinforcements in the engine room.
There has been clear acknowledgement from both rugby and senior management at the Arms Park that they will be addressing this over the off-season, with Rhys Carre, Cory Hill and an overseas lock all linked to moves, while Sam Moore has already been signed from Sale Sharks.
That is the priority and there is no getting away from that. Before we do anything else we have to ensure that there is a physical edge added to the pack that improves the attacking breakdown work, the set piece and particularly the carrying game.
However, that’s not to say that the rest of the squad is to be completely left alone and should there be budget available, as it seems there could be, then there is an area of the field that we could look to add to.
On the face of it the 10/12 stocks at the moment are pretty good at Cardiff Blues. Jarrod Evans, Ben Thomas and Willis Halaholo are all top quality players, while the likes of new signing Luke Scully and Academy member Max Llewellyn are on the way through to the first team.
There’s not a huge amount of depth there though, and the issue over the next few years is that we will certainly see Evans and Halaholo away with Wales more, cutting down our options during the crucial November and Six Nations international windows further.
Jason Tovey is a solid enough player at fly-half and Garyn Smith will do a job at inside centre, but there’s certainly no harm in looking to add to our stocks either at fly-half or inside centre.
At the moment it would appear that Nick Tompkins of Saracens is the prime target for Cardiff Blues, but as has come out over the last two weeks, that move to Wales seems to be on the rocks as negotiations over the terms of any contract slowly breakdown due to the player’s contract length at the English side and type of deal that is being pursued.
So it could be back to the drawing board for John Mulvihill. There are options to consider; other Welsh exiles in the form of Owen Williams, if he hasn’t signed to go to Japan yet, or his current Gloucester team-mate Lloyd Evans, or a look at an experienced overseas player to offer their year-round quality.
From where I’m sat the ideal option would be the return of Jamie Roberts though, hence the launch of the #BringBackDoc campaign.
The 33-year-old is back in Cardiff after leaving South Africa before a Coronavirus enforced lockdown came into effect, with his five-month contract at the Stormers likely to come to an end before Super Rugby returns to action.
As a result he may well be available to come back to the Arms Park, something he has been vocal about doing since leaving for Racing 92 in 2013 after making 86 appearances with us following a graduation through the Academy and into the first team.
On a financial level I do not believe Roberts would command a huge wage. It’s fair to say he is now approaching the final years of his career and spending time in South Africa would not have been particularly lucrative, such is that state of the economy in the country and SA rugby generally.
The security of a two-year deal, perhaps with the option of a third, may well be welcome and he is, of course, comfortably settled here having retained a place in Cardiff and grown up in South Wales.
On the playing front is where the biggest debate may be had over Roberts, and it’s certainly not a no-brainer as such to re-sign him, but for me the positives massively outweigh the negatives.
Jamie is a hugely experienced player, with 94 Wales caps and three British and Irish Lions test caps under his belt, as well as spells in the Top14 with Racing, Gallagher Premiership with Harlequins and Bath, and the aforementioned Super Rugby stint with the Stormers.
In a Cardiff Blues back line that has a fairly low average age and does not have much experience at the very top level between it, what Roberts can bring could be vital for the development of players like Jarrod, Scully, Thomas, Llewellyn and Smith, and others outside them like Harri Millard, Owen Lane, Mason Grady and Ioan Davies.
That is both off-the-field and on it, where Jamie is a high class defensive organiser and would hopefully help lead a defence from the all-important inside centre position that struggles with consistently performing at a high level.
When it comes to an attacking sense he can also help solve the problem mentioned right at the start of the piece. We know that Roberts is a big ball carrier, and although that is not all there is to his game, he certainly would offer go-forward ball and take pressure off the forwards in that respect.
The flip side to that is that it is somewhat of a departure from how Cardiff Blues have been looking to play under an Australian head coach like John Mulvihill who would perhaps favour a second playmaker or at least more of a footballer at inside centre.
However what I would say to that is we have seen the team successfully run a second playmaker from full-back over the last few years, and we are starting to see a tactical trend in some areas where the narrowing of the midfield allows the outside centre to act as the secondary playmaker in a team.
With athletic and mobile forwards such as Seb Davies, James Ratti, Josh Navidi, Elis Jenkins and Olly Robinson in the ranks, there is no danger of losing too much out wide by having a direct player such as Roberts at inside centre.
At this stage there are no serious links between the player and the club, it is largely a 2+2=5 situation, but all-in-all it’s something I would love to see Cardiff Blues pursue as we continue to build back towards regularly qualifying for the Heineken Cup and make the Guinness Pro14 play-offs for the first time.
Balance is everything when building a competitive squad and at the moment what we see at the Arms Park is a side that, when everyone is fit and available, we can name a high quality matchday 23, but when injuries and international call-ups hit we are too often found lacking.
A signing like Jamie Roberts is one that could well help redress that balance.