Team Report: Back Three

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Were it not for the unbelievable strength in depth at back row, back three would be the position most talked about when it came to an abundance of quality in the Cardiff Blues squad.

Indeed in Wales generally the battle of the wingers is hotting up with the likes of Liam Williams, Leigh Halfpenny, Johnny McNicholl, Steff Evans, George North, Ashton Hewitt and Louis Rees-Zammit all staking claims for the red jersey for the national team.

At the Arms Park though we have the man head and shoulders above the rest, with Josh Adams coming off the back of a 2019/20 season that saw him score 17 tries in 21 games for Cardiff Blues and Wales from the start of the Rugby World Cup warm-ups, including being top scorer at the tournament itself.

It’s not just the try scoring that sets the 25-year-old apart though. His work rate off his wing makes him an attacking threat right across the field, while his defensive abilities, both in terms of making defensive reads from his wing and covering the back field, mean he is close to the complete winger.

Joining him high up in the winger stakes is Owen Lane, who’s try scoring record since bursting on to the scene with Cardiff Blues in 2017/18 is quite remarkable, with 23 tries in 47 games. Powerful, quick and a superb finisher, the 22-year-old has all the qualities to be a top level winger.

Unfortunately Lane has been incredibly unlucky when it comes to international call-ups, picking up injuries on three occasions when he had either been selected or was in line for a selection, and it seems like it’s going to be fourth time unlucky for him this Autumn, but he’ll have his eyes on a 2021 Six Nations spot when he’s back fit and firing.

So with Adams and Lane either injured or called up for internationals for much of this season, the main winger duties will be handled by two men. The first of those, Aled Summerhill, also has a remarkable scoring record for Cardiff Blues, with 25 tries in 62 games putting him ninth on the post-2003 try scorers list at such an early stage of his career.

The 25-year-old has jet propelled boots that make him a lethal finisher, and the rugby brain to read exactly when to pop up in midfield and make a break, as well as the defensive skills to make him, in my opinion, the best uncapped winger in Wales.

The second brings the experience as Jason Harries, starts his sixth season of senior XVs after many years on the international sevens circuit, having been a dependable presence in the Cardiff Blues side since joining over the summer of 2018.

Nine tries in 29 games is a solid return for a player who does a lot of unseen work kick chasing, covering the back field and making hard yards off his wing in midfield. He will be mainly remembered at the moment though for the last-minute winning try away at Benetton last season for a surprise bonus point victory.

Backing them up this year will be the big new talent coming through the Cardiff Blues system, as Mason Grady caps an astonishing rise from schoolboy and U18 rugby player to signing a first professional contract in just 12 months.

The tall, rangy and incredibly quick 18-year-old caught the eye scoring a wonder try for Wales U18 last summer, and has gone on to play for Cardiff RFC, Pontypridd and Wales U20 last season. Judging by the words of John Mulvihill over the last few weeks it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the younger brother of former Cardiff Blues centre Cory Allen make his first team debut sooner rather than later.

While that is the winger stocks looking healthy, the battle at full-back prepares to be a fierce one between two Welsh internationals with opposing styles.

Hallam Amos is the most recently capped of the two, having been involved with last year’s Rugby World Cup. He played 11 times for Cardiff Blues in all competitions last season, scoring one try, after making the switch across the wetlands from the Dragons.

Comfortable under the high ball, solid defensively, with a direct running style and a very handy left-foot, Amos is a more conservative option at full-back, unlikely to be the key attacking spark but brilliant when it comes to putting his team in the right areas and helping the half-backs to manage the game.

Matthew Morgan, meanwhile, is the X factor player. One of the best counter-attackers in Europe he will punish any loose kicking and has got increasingly better at making an impact stepping into the attacking line during attacking phase play, either at first receiver or wider.

His defence and work under the high ball has got much better over the last two years, but his natural size will always be a hinderance in that respect, therefore when it comes to Mulvihill selecting his full-backs he will have to weigh up the attacking pros but defensive cons of the 28-year-old, while looking at the attacking cons and defensive pros of Amos.

Finally, the young player on the block at full-back is Ioan Davies, the 20-year-old who was a standout player for Wales U20 in 2019 but has struggled to make the step up to the first team at Cardiff Blues in the intervening 18 months.

Like Grady, Mulvihill has name checked Davies as a young player to watch in recent weeks, so hopefully we will see the player who has been likened to Leigh Halfpenny in terms of his characteristics and, importantly, his qualities on the field, get a proper go in the first team.

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