As we now know thanks to reports in the media over the last two weeks, Cardiff Blues are close to announcing the signing of Bath and Wales fly-half Rhys Priestland.
The 34-year-old is the first major signing story to come out of the Arms Park this season, and represents a good start to the 2021 recruitment window, a massively important one for the club as we look to finally make the step up from mediocre mid-table side to play-off challengers.
In recent years the recruitment of Rhys Carre, Cory Hill, Josh Adams and Hallam Amos, alongside the emergence of a number of homegrown players and the possible league changes that will take the number of regular season games down from 21 to 18, reducing the number of matches played during the international windows, has put the squad in a much better place.
From a point two-to-three years ago, where the feeling was as many as 10 players were needed to make us competitive again, to now is a huge change, and for my money were are only three-to-four players away from getting the squad to where we would like it to be.
Now one of those players is a fly-half, there is no doubt about that in my mind. The likelihood is that Jason Tovey will move on at the end of the season, bringing to an end two years where the polar opposite styles of the first choice and second choice 10s have caused no end of problems for Cardiff’s attacking game plan.
Ben Thomas and Luke Scully are well on the way to becoming good quality second choice options, but Priestland will be ideal as a stop-gap; suiting the way we are trying to play, becoming a mentor to those young fly-halves and stepping up as a leader in the squad as a whole.
There is also the question over the future of Jarrod Evans. Should the incumbent first choice stay at the Arms Park then Priestland can also be a mentor figure to him, but if Evans should head for pastures new then the incoming man will do a fine job wearing 10 before Cardiff can look to make a move for Callum Sheedy in the summer of 2022.
However, the issue is that fly-half is still a position of low priority when it comes to recruitment, albeit being on the priority list. First though, whoever is looking after the recruitment at the Arms Park at the moment has to look to strengthen the spine of the forward pack.
A big ball carrying talisman of a number eight has to be the number one priority by some distance. A replacement for Nick Williams in the same ilk as the big New Zealander or his predecessors Robin Copeland or Xavier Rush. Sam Moore is in place, but his body has taken some serious punishment already and he’s still only 22, a new figurehead will assist him more than be a hindrance.
From there the second priority has to be one or both of a big physical lock and a strong scrummaging hooker. Adding more weight to the second row will improve the depth in quality we currently have, as there is currently a drop-off when Cory Hill and/or Seb Davies aren’t available, while a strong scrummaging hooker will complement the open field capabilities of Kris Dacey, Liam Belcher and Kirby Myhill.
With all three positions the key is avoiding Welsh internationals. While there are less games scheduled during internationals windows there are still going to be weeks when Team Wales players are unavailable, therefore getting in quality non-Welsh qualified signings to beef up the squad all season long is incredibly important for maintaining consistent quality on the field and cultivating a good culture off it.
Now Dai Young is back at the club one can’t help but think of that 2010 squad where the likes of Fa’ao Filise, Paul Tito, Ma’ama Molitika, Xavier Rush, Jason Spice, Casey Laulala and Ben Blair were so crucial to the quality of the performances, the functioning of the squad as a whole and the development of future Wales stars Bradley Davies, Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny.
So while Rhys Priestland ticks many boxes in terms of the type of player we are looking to sort a problem at fly-half, signing him in isolation would be a largely pointless gesture and represent a failed recruitment window. The big signings will be of big men.