Rewind 12 months and Olly Robinson was a firm favourite in the Cardiff Rugby squad. A key member of the back row ranks, a leader within the squad having captained the side on a handful of occasions, and a cult hero with supporters.
From the moment he made his debut as a short-term injury cover loanee from Bristol in September 2017 he had something that the Arms Park faithful loved. It’s hard to put a finger on what it is, but between the 100% commitment, the numerous jackals, the constant adjusting of the scrum cap and the fact he looks so much like his old man, he was the most popular Englishman the club had seen since John Scott.
After going back to Bristol for one game in December, Robinson was quickly snapped up on a permanent deal at Cardiff and proceeded to play an important role in the European Challenge Cup win, including giving the final pass for Blaine Scully to score in the corner late in the second half. Up to the end of 2020/21 he would make 79 appearances across all competitions.
However, things started to change at the start of last season as the 31-year-old saw game time evaporate. Initially it could be explained away by the return to fitness of Ellis Jenkins and the emergence of James Botham, but when the flanker was released to play in the Barbarians v Samoa game-that-never-was and left out of the tour of South Africa it was clear he was not in Dai Young’s plans.
A Cardiff appearance did come in the misfits clash against Toulouse in December, but Robinson went out on loan to Leicester Tigers for the last three months of the season with it widely being expected that he would leave the Arms Park over the summer.
Unfortunately that hasn’t materialised, with the tightening of the salary cap in the Gallagher Premiership killing the player recruitment market in England, and overseas offers not forthcoming in the short-term. Therefore he will return to the Arms Park ahead of the 2022/23 season.
This is where the story takes yet another turn as it appears that Robinson will not be training with the first team in Cardiff, but with the Rags ahead of the Indigo Group Premiership campaign starting on the first weekend of September.
Whether he will actually be selected to play remains to be seen, with the likes of Gwilym Bradley, Gwilym Evans, Alex Mann and Mackenzie Martin after game time in the Academy ranks, and Ellis Thomas and Nathan Hudd part of the semi-pro squad, but he certainly isn’t in Dai Young’s thoughts going into pre-season and the United Rugby Championship.
It could be that he has signed overseas for early next calendar year, is awaiting an injury cover stint somewhere in Europe or is planning the next stage of his career either as a coach or outside rugby, but it does seem odd on the face of it for Cardiff to pay him a full-time wage only to place him with the part-time squad.
Of course the long-term covid contracts have left Young’s hands tied in many cases when it comes to reshaping the squad, and it is perhaps understandable for him to want to move Robinson on with a plethora of young back rowers, plus the likes of Taulupe Faletau and Thomas Young who make more economic sense due to the payments towards the national 38 in Wales.
I just hope that someone who has given a lot to the club over the last few years and is so popular amongst fans is not being treated unfairly as their time at Cardiff comes to an end.