The worst kept secret in Welsh rugby over the last five months or so has been the move of Cory Hill across the wetlands from Dragons to Cardiff Blues.
Although we still await official conformation of the signing from the Arms Park, the second row’s departure from Newport has been confirmed by the club themselves over there and the player on Instagram, with the move all done and dusted.
On the back of that there has been some pettiness from the Dragons, with a statement from them bizarrely suggesting they’d be referring the move to relevant authorities, while supporters have done their best to play down losing their captain and one of their best players.
What I want to focus on is the Cardiff Blues aspect of all this though, as Hill returns to a very different club that he left seven years ago, with a strong focus now on developing Welsh players and a generally improved culture under head coach John Mulvihill and chairman.
He was one of four players who have gone on to be capped, or almost capped, by Wales released under Phil Davies, but is now an international quality second row and a player we have been crying out for at the Arms Park.
The size of the Cardiff Blues pack has been dwindling for close to a decade now. Gone are the days of John Yapp, Fa’ao Filise, T Rhys Thomas, Paul Tito, Deiniol Jones, Bradley Davies, Ma’ama Molitika, Andy Powell and Xavier Rush bullying opposition sides around pitches the length and breadth of Europe.
Since then we have moved through a number of heavyweight players and big ball carriers in Matthew Rees, Robin Copeland and George Earle, among others, but that depth of physicality has been distinctly lacking.
Hill will certainly offer us something in this area. He isn’t the biggest and most bruising lock, but he gets through a lot of work with ball-in-hand and can take us over the gain line, something we fail to do consistently at the moment, while having the skillset to distribute and offload as part of our expansive attacking game.
He’s also a fine defensive leader, marshalling breakdowns and fringes to prevent the other team making easy yards, while his work as a middle jumper in the lineout and as a caller will certainly come in handy for a Cardiff Blues set piece that is ropey at best.
Of course while he has all the top quality attributes of the man who partners Alun Wyn Jones in the Wales second row whenever he is fit, that also means he will not be permanently available at the Arms Park, something which is expected when signing Welsh internationals.
Hill will be a superb asset when he is available for European games, Welsh derbies and the end-of-season run-in, as well as commercially with sponsors and a familiar face for more casual supporters, but the balance as always has to be struck between star names and those available all season.
The Welsh Rugby Union paying 80% of the player’s wages helps with that, but what would make the signing of Hill even better is if it was accompanied by the signing of a hard-nosed overseas signing who would be available week-in, week-out.
Strong rumours persist that a South African lock has been signed for ‘next season’, whatever that may look like. A lesser known player but hopefully a diamond in the rough who can come through and give us that season long physical edge.
If that is true then the Cardiff Blues squad is suddenly looking well balanced and ready to compete, something which no doubt would have swayed Cory Hill in his decision to leave a Dragons side that definitely showed plenty of positive signs, coming to the Arms Park where he could be one of two players to make that real difference.
A second row corps of the Welsh international, a new South African, Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull, James Ratti, Rory Thornton, Macauley Cook, Ben Murphy and Teddy Williams is a world away from what we’ve seen at times in recent years.
Cory Hill is a great signing for Cardiff Blues. A real statement of intent to lure the captain of a rival away, but the signing will be made all the better with that second signing at lock.