The Rags: The Returning Faces

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With Cardiff RFC’s season getting underway this weekend with a friendly against London Welsh at the Arms Park, now is the right time to have a look at the squad that will wear the Blue and Black of the Rags this year.

Steve Law will run a squad of 21 semi-professionals during the 2021/22 campaign, with 11 new signings joining 10 returning players who should have gone on to win the 2019/20 Indigo Group Premiership, as well as challenging for the Specsavers Cup, before the coronavirus pandemic caused the season to be cut short.

We start with the returning players profiles with the majority coming in the forwards as Law keeps hold of the core of the front and back rows that enjoyed that success pre-pandemic.

Thomas Davies has been a key cog in the machine since returning to the Arms Park in the summer of 2018. Starting out in the Cardiff Academy he graduated to make 46 first team appearances in all competitions before heading to the Dragons where he played 34 times in two years. Back with the Rags he has played in 50 of 54 games over the last two seasons, including all 19 games of the 2019/20 season where he started 16 times.

Joining him at loosehead prop is Brynley Toms, who appeared once on permit at the end of the 2018/19 campaign on permit from Bedwas before joining permanently that summer and going on to make 15 appearances in all competitions, starting three times as he largely played back up to Davies in the number one jersey.

At hooker there’s a return for Evan Yardley as the former Ospreys Academy man joined in 2019 from RGC where he captained the side during a three-year stay. The 27-year-old quickly became a key man at Cardiff where he played 17 times in the league and cup, scoring four tries.

On the tighthead Ollie Drake is back after impressing during his first season at the Arms Park ahead of the pandemic, having joined from Pontypool where he was a player of the year during one of their many Championship winning campaigns. The Penarth-born prop played 12 times in all competitions as the cornerstone of a largely dominant scrum.

Into the back row and Nathan Hudd returns hoping for better luck than in his first season at the Arms Park where he broke his arm playing for Cardiff Blues A in the Celtic Cup before even making a competitive Rags appearances, returning to play just three times before the campaign was cancelled. Capable of playing 6, 7 and 8 he will be an important figure after the departures of James Thomas, Sam Pailor, Lloyd Pike and Zach O’Driscoll.

Alex Everett also returns as he continues his recovery from the serious injury he suffered away at Llanelli in the Specsavers Cup in January 2020. The flanker joined from Cardiff University, playing 17 times and scored six tries, putting him on the radar of the first team coaches at the Arms Park, before the ankle fracture dislocation ended his season prematurely.

Finally, 2019/20 club captain Morgan Allen is back at the club having spent the last few months trying his hand at rugby league with the West Wales Raiders. The number eight has plenty of professional experience in Wales and England, as well as a huge amount of Premiership experience, and has been invaluable to the Rags with 20 tries in 48 games.

Into the backs and Tom Habberfield will continue at scrum-half having joined the club after close to a decade with the Ospreys. Four tries in 16 games were crucial, as was his experience, and although he has left his role as a Cardiff Academy coach for opportunities in education, the 29-year-old will be so important for the young players in the Blue and Blacks squad this season.

Then in the centre Barney Nightingale is back having previously been part of the Dragons Academy and playing for Newport, Cross Keys and Gwent. The 24-year-old scored five tries in 10 games as he displayed the power to be a carrier in midfield and the pace to be deployed as a winger when required, and would have been involved more but for a head injury that kept him sidelined for a few weeks.

To round off the returnees, James Beal continues in the back three for a fifth season at the Arms Park having joined from Cardiff Met in the summer of 2016. After scoring nine tries in 36 games during his first two years he suffered a serious foot injury that kept him sidelined for over a year, but the 29-year-old bounced back to score 4 tries in 13 games after recovering.

It’s a really strong core of the semi-professional playing group, with key men retained in key positions. A good mix of young talent fresh out of professional Academy set ups, or experienced Premiership men who will be key in terms of their leadership on the field and assisting the development of the younger players. Tomorrow we look at the new faces complementing them.

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