For a good few years now the majority of comments made about Cardiff in the United Rugby Championship have been about our back line and the fire power within it.
Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Willis Halaholo, Rey Lee-Lo, Owen Lane, Aled Summerhill, Josh Adams, Hallam Amos and Matthew Morgan are all mentioned as real X factor players who have scored some superb tries from strike plays and individual brilliance in recent times.
Yet nobody really talks about Jason Harries in the same breath as those aforementioned players despite the fact that he has scored 10 tries in 38 games since joining in the summer of 2018. In fact, he has been only been dubbed “The Rail Replacement Bus Service” as an option for when “The Lane Train” is not available.
However, over the last six months since Dai Young has returned as Director of Rugby, the 32-year-old has enjoyed a new lease of life, finding a niche as a physical option in the back line as well as being encouraged to play off his wing and becoming a threat all over the field.
That physical option as a winger is a handy one is this attacking system as, where Cardiff are attempting to build phases and work the opposition side-to-side, we can end up in quite tight situations close to the touchline, so to have a carrying option there to offer go forward ball and allow us to build back inside is important.
Add in a decent pair of hands to bring tracking players back in-field into play, and Harries is the ideal option for an openside winger in this system, however, he brings more to the side than just that when he comes off his wing.
It starts with him offering a first phase carrying option from the blindside, keeping the defence guessing with a carrying option also coming from inside centre, as well as giving him the chance to run hard at a fly-half who may not be the strongest defensively.
The impressive thing about Jason Harries’ carrying is that he generates the speed and has the power in order to get forward momentum through the initial contact, but he is not looking to extend the contact any further than necessary. There’s no leg driving or rolling on the floor, it’s just a dominant initial contact and then get down quickly to present the ball cleanly.
This allows Cardiff to play quickly on second phase, whether that’s bringing a forward on to the ball as in the second clip, or allowing the backs to play, as they do with a four-on-two overlap in the first clip.
When not carrying on first phase off the blindside though. he continues to work across the field off his wing and offer an additional body on the openside either as a dummy runner creating space, or an extra pair of hands to carry or pass when taking advantage of the overlap created.
The dummy line he runs in that first clip is good enough to catch the attention of Damian de Allende, one of the best defensive centres in the world, in order to open up space for Willis Halaholo to break through, while the work off his wing in a narrow channel and the variation shown against Scarlets ends up putting a try on a plate for Hallam Amos.
These are all elements to his game which have really developed over the last six months, whereas previously the impression of him around the Arms Park was as a good finisher and willing kick chaser, but perhaps lacking the impact of an Owen Lane or a Josh Adams.
Add in an impressive showing against Connacht last Friday in the air and off the boot, and he’s displaying the all-round skills that will be increasingly key for wingers as their role opens up off the back of the new 50/22 rule requiring them to cover much more of the back field than previously.
It will more than likely continue to be the case that Jason Harries stays behind the likes of Josh Adams, Owen Lane and Aled Summerhill in the winger pecking order, but having him in good form and pushing them cannot be a bad thing, with competition driving standards within the squad before we even get to game day.
With each of them either having injury problems, international call-ups or both over the last 18 months there will still be plenty of game time available for the man from Carmarthen, and having him as an option will be key to Dai Young and Cardiff as we look to push for a play-offs berth.
In the meantime though, no longer is Jason Harries the Rail Replacement Bus Service. He is simply “The Bus”.