At this point in The New Boys series for the summer of 2020, the theme of the series changes from welcoming new players to the Cardiff Blues, to welcoming players back to the Cardiff Blues.
It’s certainly been a little while since Cory Hill was last a part of the squad, seven years in fact, when he became one of the future internationals to depart the Arms Park during the reign of Phil Davies, alongside the likes of WillGriff John, Luke Hamilton and Thomas Young.
Initially heading to Moseley in the English Championship, the Pontypridd man quickly found himself back in Wales signing for the Dragons and has spent the last almost seven years at Rodney Parade, racking up 110 appearances in all competitions.
During that time he spent three seasons as Dragons captain, won all 25 of his Wales caps and co-captained the squad on the 2018 summer tour of the Americas, as well as joined the 2017 British and Irish Lions squad as a training member.
After that tour of the Americas, which he co-captained Wales on alongside Ellis Jenkins, I did an analysis piece looking at Hill after a season in which he had surprised me with just how easily he had adapted to international rugby, slotting in comfortably alongside Alun Wyn Jones during that season’s Six Nations.
Since then he has struggled with injury, being restricted to just 25 games across club and country over the last two seasons, but in two starts against Scarlets and ourselves over the last festive period, he showed that he still has plenty to offer Cardiff Blues.
Starting with the areas I highlighted back in the summer of 2018, and Hill has an all-court game that sees him play an active part in attacks with ball-in-hand. It’s one of the reasons he’s become such a regular Wales player over the last two-and-a-half years as the attacking game of the national team has gradually expanded.
Comfortable stepping in at first receiver and choosing well between the short pass and the pull-back pass, as well as happy to slot in out wide and link the play in the outside channels, Hill can hopefully be a part of my long held wish that the Cardiff Blues skill level would increase.
Of course that is a luxury for a second row though, and while his handling is a bonus, what we really need to see from Hill is a bit of grunt that has been lacking from the tight five at the Arms Park for too long.
When talking about that grunt up front it isn’t necessarily carrying I’m talking about. Yes we do sometimes struggle to get over the gain line and there is a natural pining for the team that took us to the 2010 European Challenge Cup triumph thanks mainly to it’s carrying threat.
Perhaps as crucial to the attacking game though is breakdown speed, and there’s a school of thought that it’s speed of ball, rather than gain line breaking, that is the most important aspect of going forward, especially when you have the firepower that Cardiff Blues do in our back division.
Too many times over the last few years we have become bogged down by opposition teams slowing the ball down at the breakdown and killing any momentum, as when we play with quick ball, and not necessarily front foot ball, we can be a potent force.
The key to that during that period leading up to and including 2010 was Paul Tito, who carried very rarely but hit more attacking breakdowns than anyone else on the field during that time, securing possession and getting quick ball for the carriers to keep punching holes.
Cory Hill can step into that role of the enforcer at the breakdown, adding grunt in that area rather than with ball-in-hand, and lay the platform for those around him to thrive in attack, as well as having a similar role in the lineout.
Regular readers will be fully aware of my continued exasperation over the lineout, but I have hope that Hill can come in and really revolutionise our set piece, both as an excellent lineout jumper, particularly as shown in the first clip, and as a caller.
While there are a number of technical issues that befall the lineout, there is also a persistent issue with the actual calling that sees us often bizarrely throw to the back when we’re on a streak of losing two throws in a row.
Hill is also then an excellent attacking maul technician, and at a time when our scrum has been improving so much, if we can get our lineout functioning then the driving maul can add another weapon to our attacking arsenal.
Looking at the first clip and Hill quickly gets into a really solid position at the front of the maul, shoulders up and arms wide to get a good protective barrier in front of players pushing the maul along and Richard Hibbard who will take possession of the maul at the back.
It gets set just as the initial push from Cardiff Blues wears off, so the Dragons can then get the shove on and make some valuable metres in midfield. It is the second clip that is the most impressive though.
Joining the maul who works around the openside and becomes the right hand pillar for the Dragons, is aware of the gap in the guard area of the Cardiff Blues defence and spins to work the ball carrier into the space.
By staying bound at all times he avoids being penalised for any ‘truck and trailer’ type offences by offering a picture of maul continuity to the referee, and gets his team over for a try directly from the driving maul.
As parts of the game in general, the attacking breakdown and the lineout can sometimes get overlooked, but for Cardiff Blues if Cory Hill can come in and take them to the next level than it would be a big leap forward for the team as a whole.
With his leadership also being key in a squad that can sometimes lack that figurehead on the pitch, a still only 28-year-old Hill can be a huge presence for Cardiff Blues and Wales over the next few years, and go on to become a legend at the Arms Park, proving those wrong who released him all those years ago.