As Wayne Pivac prepares to name his Wales squad for summer games against Canada and Argentina, there is hope at the Arms Park for a sizeable blue and black contingent.
After an impressive close to the season after Dai Young took over as director of rugby there have been plenty of eye-catching individual performances in the Cardiff team, so I’ve taken a look at who Pivac could well consider naming on Monday.
Starting up front and there could well be two looseheads heading from the capital into camp as Corey Domachowski and Rhys Carre put their hands up for selection. The former has had a fine breakout season, reaching double figure performances and starts for the first time, impressing with his scrummaging, carrying and tackling power as the Cardiff pack developed a bit of backbone.
The latter has continued his quick development, with it being easy to forget he’s only just turned 23 despite being in and around the Wales set up for two years now. Still raw in areas his sheer strength and dynamism are well worth sticking with, as we already know what Nicky Smith and Rob Evans offer, while Gareth Thomas has impressed but perhaps doesn’t have the talent ceiling of the Cardiff pair.
At tighthead it’s been a superb two months for Dillon Lewis who has gone from slipping down the international pecking order and struggling with a back injury, to returning to full fitness and taking a firm grip on the number three jersey at the Arms Park. The best scrummaging of his career has matched his undoubted quality around the field to make him a certainty to be involved this summer.
Into the second row and Cory Hill and Seb Davies have formed a very impressive pairing over the last four games, providing Cardiff with the set piece solidity, ball carrying and breakdown grunt that has too often been missing in recent years.
Hill is a nailed on selection for Pivac, back in the form that made him so important to the national team from 2017 through to his 2019 injury, with his game understanding setting him apart from other lock candidates. His carriyng angles, defensive position and set piece awareness give him that edge, while his leadership capabilities make him a serious candidate to step in as captain with Alun Wyn Jones away.
Davies, meanwhile, has been in-and-out of the national team set up over the last three years, but with an extended run of games in his best second row position this season has shown the kind of extended spell of form that should be rewarded with a recall. A touch heavier now but still athletic and with a bit of X factor about him, his discipline and concentration could be improved but a few weeks at The Vale and on the pitch at the Principality should go a long way to developing that.
As ever the back row is a competitive one, with no shortage of players from the other Welsh sides and over the Severn Bridge putting their hands up to where six, seven or eight this summer, but Cardiff have three viable candidates, none more so than Josh Turnbull.
The 33-year-old has been consistently excellent for a number of years at club level but seems to have taken his performance levels up another notch this season as he topped the Guinness Pro14, and currently tops the Rainbow Cup, chart for tackles made, stepped up as a primary carrier at number eight and called the lineout superbly after a wobbly 2019/20 season set piece-wise in the capital.
Turnbull’s leadership could also be key in what may well be a generally young side, and one of those taking that average age down could be James Botham as the 23-year-old capped his first full season with back-to-back standout showings against Munster and Zebre, having also impressed when fast-tracked to the international stage in the Autumn with his breakdown work and dynamic carrying.
It could even be a Cardiff trio in the back row if Josh Navidi is fit, the dictionary definition of ‘test match animal’, while James Ratti could be in the frame if he too is fit having put in a number of standout performances after moving into the number eight jersey, but with the likes of Jac Morgan, Morgan Morris, Taine Basham, Ollie Griffiths, Ross Moriarty, Aaron Wainwright, Dan Thomas and Tommy Reffell around there’s a lot of competition.
At half-back it’s difficult to see a situation whereby Tomos Williams and Jarrod Evans aren’t selected, with the former fit for an extended spell and ready to properly take hold of that nine jersey, while the latter deserves a chance to get proper international minutes and show what he can do with an improved kicking range and an extraordinary talent for unlocking defences with ball-in-hand.
Having been involved in both the Autumn and Six Nations campaigns, and still in good form as an experienced game management option, Lloyd Williams will certainly be in the frame, but with Kieran Hardy and Rhys Webb fit, as well as Dane Blacker impressing, it might be a touch too far to get two scrum-half representatives in the squad from the Arms Park.
In midfield the 13 jersey is once again a problem for Wayne Pivac with George North set to miss most of next season, but Willis Halaholo’s performances in the outside centre channel where he won a Super Rugby title with the Hurricanes will have caught the eye as he gets a second longer to work his magic with those hot stepping feet, while his distribution is always improving and his defensive reading is solid.
He could well be joined by Rainbow Cup centre partner Ben Thomas as the 22-year-old almost visibly grew in stature as an ever-present for Cardiff in recent weeks. Standing in at full-back and fly-half was no problem for the silky skilled footballer, but it was at inside centre where his full range of carrying, passing and kicking abilities were on show, suiting a Stephen Jones attack down to the ground.
Pivac may also use the summer, particularly the Canada game, to experiment a little and could opt to take a look at Owen Lane in the 13 jersey where he seemed comfortable before the red card picked up against Dragons. Free to play again he is almost certain to be involved as a winger after a number of injury frustrations at international level, but many still believe his long-term future lies in midfield.
Now as always in these pieces I enjoy a bit of a left-field selection, and this international window’s offering is Jason Harries, who has been ever-present in the Rainbow Cup and an important cog in the reshaped Cardiff attacking wheel as a big ball carrying option particularly on first phase ball. 216 metres from 28 carries gives him 7.7m per carry, alongside five line breaks, are impressive stats.
With Louis Rees-Zammit, Josh Adams and Liam Williams away, Ashton Hewitt, Aled Summerhill and the aforementioned North injured, and only really Jonah Holmes putting his hand up for selection in the back three, Harries could be on the edge of the radar for a spot out wide.
Perhaps a more likely choice, concussion issues dependent, is Hallam Amos who has had a good finish to the season with a run of games at his favoured full-back position. Excellent under the high ball, solid defensively and with a handy left boot that puts in particularly good up-and-unders, the 26-year-old is a safe option alongside the potential excitement of a Ioan Lloyd or a Mat Protheroe.