Ahead of the Rainbow Cup getting underway this weekend away at Ospreys, Dai Young has spoken about ‘mixing and matching’ his squad over the next few weeks.
On this week’s Scrum V Podcast the Cardiff Blues director of rugby said, “what I want to rectify is by the start of pre-season I have a better understanding and make up my own mind on some of these (fringe) players. So from the first two games from our point of view we would definitely look at a bit of a mix and match really.
“Play the guys that haven’t had much game time, and I’m also looking to play one or two players in different positions. This is not playing them out of position, this is looking at them in different positions so we can hopefully gain some more strength in depth across the board.
“We will be looking at Owen Lane playing 13. We know he was a centre when he was younger and if something happens to Rey (Lee-Lo) moving forward, Mason’s (Grady) out injured, you’ve got to have players that can play in a couple of positions.”
It’s an interesting admission and begs the questions who else could be moved around the field? Seb Davies in the back row, Josh Turnbull in the second row, James Botham at 8, Ben Thomas at 10, Jarrod Evans at 12 and Josh Adams at full-back are the obvious contenders that spring to mind, but Young and his coaches may well have more tricks up their sleeve.
What I’m more looking forward to is seeing some of the younger players get more of an opportunity to got toe-to-toe in a Welsh derby, as we look to build another strong group of future stars to push the now established first team squad at the Arms Park.
With Brad Thyer likely to miss the Rainbow Cup with a calf injury, Theo Bevacqua could get some decent game time in rotation with Rhys Carre and Corey Domachowski at loosehead prop after making his debut off the bench against Munster in February.
The 19-year-old is one of the players who has really been impacted by a lack of Welsh Premiership and Celtic Cup action over the last year, as well as Wales U20 campaigns being cancelled, and needs game time in order to develop. A noticeably powerful scrummager even still as a teenager, he will only get better as he is exposed to more first team action.
In the second row the hope is that Teddy Williams will be fit to get some vital minutes under his belt after a shoulder injury has kept him sidelined since featuring against Benetton and Leinster back in November, and showing up well on both occasions.
With rumours persisting about the departure of Rory Thornton this summer, Matthew Screech not yet arriving back from the Dragons, and James Ratti and Ben Murphy frequently in-and-out of the matchday 23, there is an opportunity for Williams to make his mark in the first team.
The 20-year-old stands at 6ft6, approaching 120kg and with men of that size playing in the engine room a rarity coming through the Welsh system, his progress will certainly be something to be keeping an eye on, hopefully over the next few weeks.
Into the backs and while Lloyd and Tomos Williams continue to dominate the scrum-half position, the emergence of Jamie Hill during this season has been a pleasing one, jumping Lewis Jones in the pecking order as a close to complete nine with a solid pass, running game and a very handy left foot.
Still only 21 the consistency and quality of his decision making will now only come with games at the top level, which he should get a decent amount of during the Rainbow Cup.
The final player I’m keen to see over the next few weeks is Max Llewellyn, and whereas the others mentioned are at the stage of their career where they need to be exposed to some first team minutes to continue their development, we have seen plenty from Llewellyn that suggests his development is coming along fine.
The 22-year-old is an excellent carrier, a strong defender, and is showing signs of possessing the game reading abilities that set some inside centres apart from others, particularly when it comes to picking lines to run off the 9 and 10, and his ability to keep the ball alive after contact.
However, what Llewellyn is yet to display is a durability that allows him to play week-in, week-out at this level. Niggling injuries keep setting him back just as he’s getting into his stride, but with Rey Lee-Lo having nothing left to prove, there’s a chance to hand the young man regular starts over the next two months in order to see how his body holds up.