When Taulupe Faletau arrives at the Arms Park next summer I am confident in the statement that he will be the biggest signing Cardiff have made since Gethin Jenkins returned from Toulon in 2013.
In that time we have signed some big names and great players, with the likes of Josh Turnbull, Gareth Anscombe, Adam Jones, Tom James, Rey Lee-Lo, Nick Williams, Willis Halaholo, Dmitri Arhip, Josh Adams and Hallam Amos all going on to become cult heroes, Wales internationals or British & Irish Lions.
However, only Bomb comes close to Faletau’s current record of 86 Wales caps and five Lions test caps across three tours, with the number eight only just turning 31 and aiming for at least another World Cup, still playing some of his best rugby and being one of the biggest names in Welsh, European and world Rugby.
He’ll bring with him quality on the field in abundance; as a strong ball carrier through the middle of the field, an athletic runner in the wider channels, silky handling skills for days, a committed defender and a quality lineout jumper, but he will also bring experience and leadership during the all-important 80 minutes on the weekend, and around the training ground during the week.
It’s always important to note the mentoring role that the likes of Xavier Rush and Paul Tito had with Bradley Davies and Sam Warburton, what they then offered Ellis Jenkins and Josh Navidi, and what Faletau can now offer to Alun Lawrence, James Botham, Shane Lewis-Hughes and the next generation currently in the Academy.
Beyond that he will no doubt have a commercial impact, with sponsors keen to be partnered with someone of the number eight’s profile as a Wales and Lions great, as well as supporters more interested in coming down to the Arms Park to watch one of the best players of his era live and in the flesh.
Crucially though, it addresses a need that the Cardiff squad has had since Big Nick retired; a top quality talismanic number eight.
A number of the great Blue and Blacks side have had that iconic number eight, whether it be Sid Judd in the 50s, John Scott through the 80s, Hemi Taylor into the 90s and then Rush in Marseille and Williams in Bilbao, they have been the heartbeat of their respective sides.
External voices may well say that the back row at the Arms Park in currently too stacked, with the likes of Navidi, Jenkins, Botham, Lewis-Hughes and Turnbull all Welsh internationals, and Lawrence, Will Boyde, Olly Robinson and Sam Moore backing them up, plus exciting prospects still coming through the development pathway, but in truth what we have there is an abundance of flankers.
James Ratti is doing a great job wearing the number eight jersey this season, but Faletau will raise that to another level, and allow Ratti to return more to his natural home in the second row, potentially delaying the need to go out and spend big in that area for another season, and bringing an additional ball carrying option from elsewhere in the pack.
Then we get to the value for money question and, over the last five full seasons for Bath, he has played an average of 12.5 games which with an average of six tests played per season in that same timeframe, is not bad in terms of availability.
Obviously for Bath footing the whole of a £400k salary that may not now be value for money as the Gallagher Premiership salary cap changes and there is one less marquee player per squad, but for Cardiff with Faletau almost certain to be in the national 38 we are in line to receive a payment worth 80% of his salary from the Welsh Rugby Union.
Let’s say that he stays on £400k at the Arms Park, then we are only playing £80k from our basic wage budget for a player of Faletau’s quality to play 12 times a season. That isn’t just value for money, that’s a bargain.
There’s still a long way to go in this recruitment and retention window, so it’s difficult not to get ahead of myself with the signings of Thomas Young and Taulupe Faletau being confirmed before mid-November, but it seems like something exciting is building at the Arms Park.