I’m sure like many other Cardiff supporters last Wednesday morning, I was a little bemused by the news that Thomas Young was set to sign for the club and was being called up to the Wales squad for the autumn via special dispensation from the Professional Rugby Board as a result.
That bemusement comes courtesy of the fact that openside flanker is undoubtedly the strongest position in the squad currently. Ellis Jenkins, James Botham and Josh Navidi are all internationals, Olly Robinson surely would be if he were playing in England, while Will Boyde is one of the most underrated players in the country.
With Josh Turnbull capable of slotting in if required, and the likes of Gwilym Bradley, Alex Mann and Gwilym Evans on the way through the pathway, we don’t lack for quality or depth in the number seven jersey. In fact, you could argue we have the best openside stocks in Europe.
So when it comes to recruitment, why would our first signing of this recruitment and retention window be an addition to that group? Especially when we clearly need to bulk the spine of our forward pack. Well, when I stopped to think about it there were two points in this signing’s favour.
The first is that Thomas Young is a bloody good rugby player, as the top analysts would say. The 29-year-old has been a key part of the Wasps pack for the last seven years, helping them to two Gallagher Premiership Finals, making well over 100 appearances and scoring 36 tries, the most of any Wasps forward in the club’s history.
He’s a superb jackal, a strong tackler, a real workhorse around the park, packs a punch in the carrying game as well as having a surprising turn of pace, and increasingly has become a real leader at the Ricoh Arena. There’s a reason he was nominated European Player of the Year in 2016/17 as one of the 15 best players on the continent.
Players like Young don’t become available every day, especially Welsh players who are keen to return to the country, so when he is there to be signed then careful consideration must be given. This leads me on to the second point, which is a bit more wide ranging, and comes at a time when the Cardiff squad is likely to undergo somewhat of an overhaul under Dai Young over the next 12-24 months.
Back in early September, club president Peter Thomas spoke to The Rugby Paper about the need for the Blue and Blacks squad to be cut down from around 53 to the 45 player mark over the course of the next two years. The natural conclusion to draw from this is that fringe players who are over the age of 25 may well be looking for a new club in near future.
In terms of the back row that means that players like Olly Robinson and Will Boyde, as well as even possibly the likes of Sam Moore and Alun Lawrence, may have a battle on their hands to stay at the Arms Park beyond the end of their current contracts.
Bringing Young in retains the quality within the back row, but it potentially opens up money to be spent elsewhere, if he becomes part of the fabled “national 38” for whom the Welsh Rugby Union pay extra to their clubs, the equivalent of 80% of their wages, to ensure they stay playing in Wales.
So whereas the likes of Robinson and Boyde would likely be on less money than the new signing, if they were to move on as Young arrives then it actually leaves Dai Young more money to spend elsewhere in the squad, with the director of rugby openly stating on previous occasions that he is fully aware of where his squad needs strengthening.
And this is where the “if” comes into the equation. Thomas Young is an excellent signing IF he is followed by at least two of a heavy, physical hooker, a heavy, physical second row or a ball carrying number eight, with preferably one coming in as a natural leader of men.
At this tough financial time in Welsh rugby they will not be easy to come by, with many clubs throughout Europe looking for players in the same mould, but they are what is required if we want to return to competing at the top end of league and European competition.
It is still early in the recruitment window, and to announce the signing of a top class player is a great start, but it must be backed up if it is to prove to be a truly excellent signing.