With the return of the Team Report comes the return of another Cardiff Rugby Life pre-season series, The New Boys.
Having had a look at the second rows in the squad for the 2021/22 campaign, the first new signing of the summer has appeared in the form of Matthew Screech who returns to the club after eight years away at the Dragons.
After three appearances for the Blue and Blacks back in 2011/12, the Academy graduate made the switch to Rodney Parade where he appeared 162 times in all competitions. Particularly in his last three seasons in Newport, the 28-year-old became a key figure in the pack.
At 6’5″ and close to 120kg, Screech is not a small man and the physicality he can bring is in evidence defensively where, crucially, he can make a dominant hit. It’s sometimes an aspect of the Cardiff defence that is missing as we soak up pressure defensively, rather than trying to put it on the opposition.
He’s also got the athleticism to cover ground though. Looking at the first clip as he blitzes out of the defensive line, and particularly the second clip where he covers a close to 10 metre channel against the Glasgow ball carrier.
The stats don’t lie in terms of his tackling, with Screech making the 13th most in the league during the regular season of the Pro14 last year, with 136 tackles at a success rate of 94%. Combine that with his ability as a lineout jumper and, importantly, a maul defender, and he’s got the solid attributes of a good second row sorted.
As a tail gunner Screech can get up and provide a platform for the backs off the top of a lineout, but I think it’s towards the front of the set piece where he will have the biggest impact on the Cardiff squad.
In attack his speed of jump and set up of the maul can be a weapon for the Blue and Blacks lineout drive, as too often we are beaten to getting set for a maul battle by the opposition. Looking at the first clip, Screech is down from the top of his jump and transferring the ball back, with his teammates in good body positions quicker than Glasgow are ready to defend, allowing them to move forwards.
Then in the third clip, he is around the Glasgow pillar and disrupting their organisation of the maul, turning in 90 degrees and allowing Ross Moriarty to drive into the ball carrier and effect a turnover.
Where Screech’s impact will be keenly needed beyond the staples of defence and set piece though is in attack, where Cardiff need a lock to offer more than just a presence at the breakdown, which the new signing does perfectly well.
Although Screech wasn’t signed as a replacement for Cory Hill, there is now a temptation to see him as filling the gap left by his former Dragons teammate, particularly in the carrying aspect of the attack where Cardiff’s forwards are going to be key in terms of generating quick ball and maintaining momentum.
He may not bring the running angles that Hill showed off, but he is a more physical carrier with his stats showing just one clean break from 86 carries, but 134 metres gained as he pushes for metres after contact using that big frame.
The interesting aspect of all three clips is that Screech carries from effectively a standing start, or with little momentum coming on to the ball. With the Cardiff attacking game all about bringing forwards on to the ball at speed, it could take that direct carrying ability to the next level.
His physicality also makes him a weapon in the red zone, something the Blue and Blacks have missed since the retirement of Nick Williams. Alun Lawrence showed an ability to get over the line from close range against Harlequins recently, but having another option to drive over cannot be a bad thing, especially if Screech can match his four league tries last season.
The combination of upper body strength and a big leg drive can bring a lot to the Cardiff attack as we look to get into the red zone a lot more this season, and improve on our pre-season ability to convert those entries into points.
However, Screech is more than just a physical ball carrier, he can single-handedly bring that speed and impetus to the attack as his experience allows him to spot opportunities alongside a general propensity to play heads-up rugby.
Whereas a lot of locks will take on the ruck inspector role when the ball is available at the back of a breakdown or the fly-half carries into contact, Screech is alive to the opportunities to ensure the attacking tempo stays high and turns half-chances into try scoring moments.
He’s a signing that has flown under the radar somewhat this year, both around Welsh rugby and even in Cardiff circles as Rhys Priestland dominates column inches so far, but Matthew Screech could be the best bit of business done at the Arms Park in years.
With international ambitions in the back pocket and a point to prove having previously been released, as well as an attacking game plan that can elevate him to the next level, the stage is set for him to push on in the peak of his career.