Class of 2019: Where are they now?

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Over the course of John Mulvihill’s first 12 months in charge of the Cardiff Blues some 16 players headed for pastures new as the Australian put his stamp on the squad.

While we wait for this season’s list of confirmed departures, with the COVID-19 pandemic and negotiations over a prolonged wage cut seemingly putting the brakes on those announcements, I thought I’d take the annual look at how the previous summer’s leavers had fared a year on.

Gethin Jenkins

Arguably the greatest loosehead prop ever to play the game, certainly in the professional era, Melon hung up his boots in November 2018 after a persistent calf injury and immediately took on the role of Cardiff RFC defence coach.

Since then he has played his part in the Blue and Blacks winning a first Specsavers Cup title since 1997, while during the cancelled 2019/20 campaign he coached the best defence to the league in what could well have been another trophy winning season.

Jenkins also took on the role of defence coach for Wales U20 during the 2020 U20 Six Nations, with a particular highlight being the defensive work during the away win over England U20 at Kingsholm, as his stock rises in the coaching world.

Matthew Rees

There was some surprise that Smiler did not take on a coaching role at the Arms Park, possibly with the Academy, after calling time on his illustrious career last May in a retirement that was pretty poorly handled by the Cardiff Blues in terms of providing a fitting farewell for a great player.

Spells coaching age grade sides and also assisting at Pontypridd in the Indigo Group Premiership seemed to have him set up to oversee the scrum somewhere, but instead he is more likely to be found in the office of Richard Holland rather than on the field.

Rees has joined Engage Sport as a Player Manager, under the tutelage of former Cardiff player and CEO Bob Norster, becoming a registered agent in the world of rugby.

Matthew Rees Edinburgh

Tom James

After 60 tries in 163 games for Cardiff Blues across two spells, the post-2003 record try scorer made a second exit from the Arms Park last summer, taking up a contract in West Wales with the Scarlets.

A frustrating season at Parc y Scarlets only saw the winger make two appearances in the Guinness Pro14 though, turning out as many times for Merthyr in the Premiership, and over the course of the COVID-19 enforced lockdown he announced his retirement from professional rugby.

James has now set up his own personal training business, TJ11 Fitness, passing on his knowledge built up over 15 years of being an athlete at the top level.

Gareth Anscombe

After a long and protracted contract saga, Wales fly-half Gareth Anscombe finally decided his future lay with the Ospreys at the end of last season, making the switch to the Liberty Stadium after scoring 615 points in 59 games for Cardiff Blues.

Unfortunately a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered against England at Twickenham last August ruled him out of the Rugby World Cup and has meant a debut for the Swansea-based team has still not been possible.

Complications in his rehabilitation mean a return to action is still some way off for Anscombe, but he has still grabbed some headline as a huge image of him adorned the digital advertising screen outside the Arms Park in the build up to the Ospreys v Cardiff Blues clash before Christmas.

Rhys Carre

A slightly bizarre 12 months for the young loosehead prop who departed the Arms Park last summer as a young player with bags of potential and returns unexpectedly as Wales’ second choice for the number one jersey having played in a Rugby World Cup semi-final and been a regular in the Heineken Champions Cup.

Carre had made just two starts for the Cardiff Blues when he headed to Saracens, but since then has played eight times for the then champions of England and Europe, as well as winning eight international caps.

After the salary cap scandal involving Saracens and their subsequent relegation to the Greene King Championship though, Carre is back in the Welsh capital ahead of rugby returning at the end of next month and hopefully for many years to come.

Rhys Carre Wales 20

George Earle

There was a bit of surprise and some disappointment when second row Earle was allowed to depart last summer after 59 games of physical edge across three seasons with Cardiff Blues, which followed four years at the Scarlets.

The South African was picked up by French ProD2 side Colomiers and he played 12 times for them as the Toulouse-based side stormed to the top of the league and were right in contention for promotion to the Top14 when the league was cancelled during March.

It appears Earle will continue with Colomiers next season as he prepares to play beyond his 34th birthday and into a 14th year of his career.

Steven Shingler

In hindsight a move which probably shouldn’t have happened, but Shingler was allowed to depart in March 2019 after 60 games for Cardiff Blues following his arrival from Scarlets in the summer of 2016.

Initially he headed for France where a short spell with Mont-de-Marsan in the ProD2 produced 62 points in eight games, but unfortunately a fall at the first hurdle in the promotion play-offs.

From there it was to London where Shingler now plays for Ealing Trailfinders in the Championship. Injuries restricted the fly-half to 14 games but he’ll look to make amends next season, alongside coaching the London Welsh backs.

Blaine Scully

The cult hero of cult heroes, Scully left the Arms Park last summer after 52 appearances in four seasons, including scoring the crucial try in the European Challenge Cup Final against Gloucester in Bilbao.

After that he led the USA Eagles at the Rugby World Cup, scoring two tries, before announcing his retirement from playing at the age of 32 in March.

Since officially hanging up his boots Scully has become a Dad for the first time and launched the Captain’s Code podcast, speaking to leaders in high performance environments about their lives and experiences.

Blaine Scully Saracens

Tom Williams

Back three player Williams returned to the Arms Park for a second spell during the 2018/19 season, scoring one try in two Pro14 appearances, as well as four tries in seven outings for Cardiff Blues, before once again heading for pastures new.

This time it was to the English Championship and Jersey, where he scored two tries in five games during an injury interrupted season which he will hope to build on during a second campaign in the Channel Islands.

Jack Roberts

After two injury ravaged years as a Cardiff Blues player, during which he picked up knocks in each of his four appearances, Roberts made the move back to England last summer when he signed with Championship side Doncaster Knights.

Unsurprisingly, considering the last of those injuries was a bad knee issue, centre Roberts only ran out eight times for the Yorkshire side during 2019/20, and this summer will make the move to join Tom Williams and Macauley Cook on Jersey.

Samu Manoa

When big American back rower Manoa arrived from Toulon it was a welcome surprise to beef up the Cardiff Blues pack ahead of returning to the Heineken Champions Cup, with his 6ft5 and 120+kg frame hopefully bringing a much needed carrying presence.

Unfortunately after just seven appearances his contract was mutually terminated after a family bereavement back in California which saw Manoa wanting to return home.

Since then he has retired from international rugby before the Rugby World Cup and signed with the Seattle SeaWolves in Major League Rugby, playing five times at the end of the 2019 campaign.

Sion Bennett

Having arrived on a short-term loan from Northampton Saints and impressing during the end of the 2016/17 season, back-rower Bennett signed a permanent deal that summer but struggled to push on in the first team.

Just six appearances followed over the next two years and the then 25-year-old’s contract was not renewed last year leaving him free to head for Hong Kong. There he signed with Valley RFC in the Hong Kong Premiership and took up a job with property investment firm API Global.

sion-bennett-treviso

Dane Blacker

After impressing during Wales U20’s Grand Slam win in 2016, Blacker struggled to make the step up into the Cardiff Blues matchday squad, making more Guinness Pro14 appearances on loan at the Dragons in 2017/18 than he did during his time at the Arms Park.

Last summer the scrum-half made the switch West to the Scarlets where he has appeared nine times across the league and Europe so far, covering Kieran Hardy while Gareth Davies is on international duty.

Ben Jones

The other half of the U20 Grand Slam winning half-back combination from 2016, Jones also struggled to break into the matchday 23 at the Arms Park, appearing in the Pro14 just once in his time at the club.

Instead he mainly turned out for Pontypridd in the Indigo Group Premiership and the fly-half signed up at Sardis Road permanently after leaving Cardiff Blues last summer, although he will head further North to Merthyr for the 2020/21 campaign.

Cameron Lewis

Another Academy member who departed the Arms Park last summer, Lewis only featured in one Anglo-Welsh Cup game for Cardiff Blues, instead playing mostly for Pontypridd and Wales Sevens.

After his contract expired he signed a full-time Sevens deal with the Welsh Rugby Union, playing in New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Dubai last season before the HSBC World Sevens Series was cut short by COVID-19.

Corey Howells

Having signed from the Dragons Academy, winger Howells never made the grade at Cardiff Blues before departing last summer. Since then he has played for Ebbw Vale in the Indigo Group Premiership last season.

George Thomas

Another Academy winger who was released last summer, Thomas has stayed local as he continues his studies at Cardiff University, playing regularly for the red and blacks in BUCS Super Rugby.

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