100 Club: Solid as a rock

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The 100 Club opens it’s doors once again this week as Garyn Smith brings up the milestone for Cardiff Blues having started in Monday night’s win over Benetton at Rodney Parade.

To see him running out to bring up his century of appearances in a ‘home’ game not at the Arms Park with no supporters there in many ways it summed up the Pontypridd man’s career to date perfectly, as he’s never been a player who has garnered much attention.

I know I speak on behalf of all Cardiff Blues supporters when I say I wish we could have been there to acknowledge his service to the club though, as players like Garyn Smith are in many ways more important to us than the big name stars are.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Smith’s milestone is the fact that he’s only 25, yet has racked up 100 appearances already. That is both an impressive achievement, but also surprising as he seems to have been around forever, going back to this first try against Zebre in the same season he made his Cardiff Blues debut, 2014/15.

In the intervening six years we’ve seen a few variations of Smith, adapting each time to fill needs within the squad and always taking on whatever role is asked of him to the best of his ability. He starts here as a pacey 19-year-old outside centre/winger, used largely off the bench to add some pace in the later stages of games.

By the time he enjoys a breakout season in 2015/16 though, starting nine times and coming off the bench five times in the league and Europe, he is playing almost exclusively as a pacey 13.

Nailing down the 13 jersey in the last three months of the season, Smith went from a somewhat unknown prospect to a much talked about talent in the Welsh game, slotting in alongside Gareth Anscombe and Rey Lee-Lo in a Cardiff Blues side that was playing really positive rugby in the final stages of Danny Wilson’s first year in charge.

What followed that breakout season would no doubt have been a disappointment to the player though, as he started just twice in the league and Europe, not getting the chance to kick on and largely appearing in the Welsh Premiership for Pontypridd alongside featuring in the British & Irish and Anglo-Welsh Cups.

When he did start to re-emerge in the first team Smith was noticeably stockier and it showed in his game play.

Still maintaining his turn of pace, Smith now also possessed a physical edge in the centre and was starting to see more game time at inside centre as the coaches felt cover was required at 12 rather than 13 with the likes of Cory Allen still at the club.

It was at this point around 2018 that we saw his game start to mature, away from the pacey attacking presence and more towards the defensive rock. He became part of the senior leadership group within the squad and was quite clearly captaining the defence at times.

The physical edge to his tackling at inside centre, as well as his ability to make defensive reads from outside centre, make him a key element of the Cardiff Blues squad.

There’s an argument to say that there is no better back defensively than Garyn Smith. Rey Lee-Lo makes a number of good reads from 13, but I don’t think anyone does it with the effective consistency of Smith, and this is why he does such a good job for Cardiff Blues.

The way the Pro14 works it is not the team that has the best first choice XV that is successful, it is the team with the best strength in depth. Smith is available to call on all-year round, and although selecting a fly-half and centre partner that complement his style is key, you know that you will always get a defensively solid and generally committed performance.

With all that serious stuff out the way though, the real reason why Garyn Smith will always be a hero at the Arms Park stems from one night in Bilbao…

The try is a superb moment, with Garyn Smith part of the same crop of Cardiff Blues players alongside Harri Millard, Tomos Williams, Aled Summerhill and, crucially, Jarrod Evans, who are all on a similar wavelength. He is right there to get on the end of Evans’ kick and really get us back into the game.

It’s the penalty win that will go down in history though. Two failed attempts at kicking ahead earlier in the game were forgotten as he punched the ball down the touchline and hared after it with three minutes left on the clock.

I will never tire of seeing him clamp on to the ball, Jerome Garces’ arm come out and Kris Dacey’s celebration as the whistle is blown. The rest is history, and it’s a history that will include Garyn Smith forever.

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