The 2019/20 Welsh domestic season has come to an abrupt end due to the Coronavirus campaign, costing Cardiff RFC the chance to go for an historic Indigo Group Premiership and Specsavers Cup double.
It also meant the cancellation of the first Welsh/Scottish competition and some eagerly anticipated trips to Edinburgh and the Borders, however the Blue and Blacks can look back on what was still a very successful season for Steve Law’s men, winning 17 out of 19 games in all competitions.
For the first time on the Cardiff Rugby Life we’re going to get our Blue and Blacks ties on and hand out some Cardiff RFC awards, with the rules being that only the Cardiff RFC registered players are eligible for the awards, with one award being an obvious exception.
Most Improved Player
As always with awards on the Cardiff Rugby Life we start with the Most Improved Player, which is possibly one of the hardest awards to give out as the amount of turnover in the Cardiff RFC squad season-to-season means that there isn’t a huge amount of candidates, especially when 2018/19 was as good.
The winner is a player who doesn’t strictly fit the criteria, in the sense that he’s played at an as high level as he did the campaign before, but with a more consistent switch from the back row into the second row Sam Pailor has become important to the team in a different way.
Particularly during the December/January period where injuries, Wales U20 call-ups and Cardiff Blues commitments led to a second row crisis for the Blue and Blacks, he consistently put in big shifts in the engine room and added try scoring to his repertoire with scores against Newport and Llanelli.
Young Player of the Year
A slight change to the rules for the Cardiff RFC edition of this award as the low average age of the side means it’s an U23 award, rather than U25. A couple of potential winners for this with James Ratti, Alex Everett, Barney Nightingale and Edd Howley all having good seasons.
The winner is a player who may have gone slightly under the radar this season, but Callum Bradbury has made such an impression that the Dragons were taking a look at him with a view to taking him back into a professional setup.
Particularly during the incredible unbeaten run between September and December, his set piece work at the lineout and the maul was huge as a platform for the backs and a weapon in itself, with the driving maul resulting in five tries during that spell.
Try of the Season
With 70 tries in 19 games across the league and cup there are certainly plenty of contenders for the Cardiff RFC try of the season.
Teri Gee scored some scorchers after arriving in December, while the last minute try from Edd Howley was a lesson in patient attack late in a game and certainly a contender for moment of the season. My winner of the try award is this effort away at Bridgend in November though, finished by Gareth Thompson.
There’s plenty to unpack in this excellent try from the good work on the kick return from Joe Scrivens getting Cardiff on the front foot, to the speed with which the players get into their attacking shape and then the handling of Max Llewellyn, Ioan Davies, Morgan Allen and Thompson to get over the line.
A superb try and an important one to get the Blue and Blacks ahead just before half-time after what was a slow and scrappy start at the Brewery Field.
Best New Signing
With the aforementioned high level of squad turnover the candidates for the best new Cardiff RFC signing are many, especially after plenty of the new faces in the squad have come in and hit the ground running to push us to the top of the Premiership.
Evan Yardley has done a good job of stepping in to the hooker spot vacated by former club captain Joey Tomlinson, while James Ratti caught the eye before being signed to a full-time Cardiff Blues contract, and James Thomas added yet more quality and experience to the back row.
In the backs there was plenty of excellent rugby from Tom Habberfield, the likes of Jack Brooks, Leon Andrews, Barney Nightingale and Sam Beard were all good additions to the midfield, Teri Gee added some crucial tries after his arrival and Joe Scrivens’ solidity at fly-half, full-back and off the kicking tee was a great asset.
My winner though is a player who many may not have expected to become as crucial as he was though, with Alex Everett slotting in across the back row and producing some stand out performances up until a serious injury cut his season short in January.
His powerful carrying was a particular joy to watch, earning him six tries in 17 games and putting him on the radar of the Cardiff Blues, while his work rate in defence made him a natural leader on the pitch. Fingers crossed his recovery is going smoothly and he’s ready to hit the ground running again when rugby resumes.
Best Academy Player
This is the award for the Cardiff Blues youngsters who have featured for Cardiff RFC this season, with plenty getting valuable game time and experience with the Blue and Blacks this season, continuing the theme of Academy players properly integrating into the Cardiff RFC squad and getting more out of their time in the Premiership.
Will Davies-King has gone on to make his Cardiff Blues debut, while Iestyn Harris has impressed on his return from a serious knee injury. Teddy Williams has continued his development while James Botham and Ben Thomas have gone on to be regular Cardiff Blues match day squad members at different times of the season.
A particular mention goes to Cardiff Blues U18 scrum-half Ethan Lloyd who has looked very composed stepping up to senior rugby, but the winner of the award is Max Llewellyn who has taken on the mantle of being the main man in the centres after Ben Thomas and Will Rees-Hole moved on.
Playing at 12 and 13 he has been a key man in attack and defence for the Blue and Blacks in a season where midfield has been a problem area at times, with his development seeing him make a very assured Cardiff Blues full debut away at Edinburgh before the season suspension.
Performance of the Season
When a team wins 16 out of 19 games in a season then picking the best performance is highly likely to be a tricky one, and that’s certainly the case for Cardiff RFC. The opening day win over Pontypridd, two big away wins against RGC, the record breaking thumping of Ebbw Vale and battling to victories in top-of-the-table clashes against Aberavon and Llandovery all stood out.
However my winner comes from January and a Specsavers Cup trip to Llanelli. I suspect the Blue and Blacks coaches will point to better technical performances during the campaign but the 35-20 win at Parc y Scarlets stands out to me for the psychological elements.
It came the week after what was probably the worst performance of the season in the away loss to Carmarthen and had to overcome that serious injury to Alex Everett mid-way through the first half but still saw Cardiff score four tries and earn a place in the quarter-finals of the Cup we were defending.
Player of the Year
It’s the first awarding of the big prize in the Cardiff RFC edition of the Cardiff Rugby Life Awards, and while I could continue the theme of running through potential winners, I’m just going to go right ahead and name Morgan Allen the 2019/20 Cardiff Rugby Life Cardiff RFC Player of the Year.
As people who know me will be aware, I am of the strong opinion that the big number eight is the greatest rugby player currently playing on earth at the moment, and this award could be for the player of the last two years, such is the impact Allen has made since arriving at the Arms Park in the summer of 2018.
His carrying has been a key component in the successes of the last two seasons, with 20 tries in 48 games, while this season his added role of captaincy has seen him take on additional importance to the squad, leading them to the record breaking unbeaten run and getting back on track after a Christmas/New Year wobble.
All of the great Cardiff teams have had talismanic number eights and Morgan Allen is certainly fulfilling that role for this current side. All being well, he will be able to lift that Premiership trophy up at the end of the next season.