After getting the Team Report underway with a look at the front row yesterday, it’s now time to move on to the Cardiff engine room for 2021/22 season.
Of course the big news in this department over the summer was the departure of Cory Hill as the Wales international headed to Japan, but there is still good quality in the Blue and Blacks squad who can take advantage of the gap left in the starting XV.
Perhaps the biggest beneficiary could be Seb Davies as he enters his sixth season as a full-time first team squad member, on course to join the Blue and Blacks 100 club some time during the second half of the campaign. Still only 25, Davies is now transitioning from a younger player into a senior member of the squad, especially in the absence of Hill.
After spending a year or two being moved around the pack from blindside flanker to number eight, Davies played consistently at lock last season and had his best season so far having appeared to bulk up but maintain his athleticism around the field and as a lineout jumper. Now comes the time when he needs to kick on as a league leading second row and push for international honours.
He will be joined in the engine room by new signing Matthew Screech this season as the 28-year-old returns to the Arms Park having come through the Academy here before heading for the Dragons in 2013. Off the back of a superb campaign where he scored five tries in 17 games, Screech brings a big carrying presence and a solid maul defence to a side that needs an addition in both areas.
Battling to put pressure on Seb and Screech are two former Ospreys players, starting with James Ratti who is included in the lock ranks despite a recent shift to number eight. The 23-year-old may well be used as a versatile loose forward this season, with his ball carrying being used at 4, 5, 6 and 8 if required, but as arguably the third choice second row in the depth chart he will feature heavily there this season.
Rory Thornton will also be pushing for a spot in the matchday 23 as undoubtedly the best lineout operator at the club, providing a platform for the backs to play from through the set piece. Not quite on the level of Davies, Screech and Ratti as a ball carrier, the 26-year-old is likely to be the go-to bench option to solidify the lineout in the later part of the game.
Also looking to push on this season is Ben Murphy who could well benefit from the shifting attacking focus from physicality to athleticism, as although the 25-year-old is 6’5″ and 120kg, he possesses a mobility and a turn of pace that will fit in well with the high tempo front-foot style of play. 10 league appearances last season was a big milestone, but he will need to kick on again this year and catch Dai Young’s eye.
Into the younger players and when a player like Cory Hill departs it can often open the door for new talent to emerge, with Teddy Williams a candidate as a breakout player. Having made his debut against Benetton last November and impressing during the Rainbow Cup towards the end of the campaign, the soon-to-be 21-year-old is an all-round lock who has a huge talent ceiling if he gets the game time needed.
Behind him on the conveyor belt is Rhys Anstey who, at 19, is likely to play the majority of his rugby for the Rags this season having bulked up a lot over the summer and the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns ahead of stepping up to senior rugby. He did not look out of place off the bench against Bath in pre-season, and could be looking to make his competitive debut towards the end of this upcoming campaign.
It’s a solid group of second rows at the Arms Park this season, albeit a young one with an average age of 23. Crucially though, it’s a group that suits the attacking style of Cardiff well with plenty of ball carrying and a level of athleticism that reflects how we’re going to get around teams this season. If it grows together over the next few years, the engine room is looking in good stead.