We are on to the backs in the Cardiff squad for 2022/23 season and starting with the playmakers at half-back where difficult decisions will need to be made soon as Dai Young starts to the shape the Blue and Blacks squad.
Having mentioned in both the front row and second row about brave selections being needed in order to get young players the game time they need in the first team if they are to kick on, at half-back that could come at the expense of some seriously experienced international quality players though, with some good form from them over the last few years.
Starting with the non-negotiable and Tomos Williams is once again the undisputed first choice scrum-half. The 27-year-old had a tough 21/22 campaign with injury and getting varying amounts of game time in the Wales set up, but looked in good nick during the summer tour coming off the bench to impact the final 30 minutes and linking up with Gareth Anscombe to offer a masterclass in tempo management and attacking rugby in the second test.
He will be joined by Jarrod Evans as the first choice fly-half who cut a generally frustrated figure last season having started the campaign well but missed out again on international recognition and then struggled as the team imploded around him. Undoubtedly one of the most electric attacking talents in the league, Evans is now 26 and will be looked at as a senior figure in the rebuild of the squad, requiring him to lead with his performances and attitude.
The squad options then are led currently by the experienced duo of Lloyd Williams and Rhys Priestland. Williams in particular has been playing some good rugby over the last two years, getting himself back into international contention behind Tomos, Kieran Hardy and Gareth Davies, with Rhys Webb seemingly well out of the picture, as he combines game management ability built up over many years of playing at the top level with a retained eye for a snipe around the fringes.
Priestland struggled with slotting into the Blue and Blacks attack at times during the last campaign, often starting too deep to launch anything meaningful with ball-in-hand, but his game management and the distance on his kicking game is undoubtedly an asset in a Cardiff side that struggles to win the territory battle all too often.
The elephant in the room on this front is that Williams turns 33 and Priestland turns 36 during the course of the season, putting them firmly in the latter stages of their respective careers. Waiting in the wings is a talented half-back group who are at the stages in their development where regular first team minutes are required.
At scrum-half Jamie Hill and Ellis Bevan are both vying for that third choice spot currently and, if managed correctly, could come through as the next Lloyd and Tomos duo at 9. Hill is very much in the Lloyd mould as a neat and tidy technical scrum-half with an eye for a gap and a high level kicking game, while Bevan is an exciting Tomos/Mike Phillips hybrid as a big physical scrum-half who thrives when working the fringes of the breakdown and can launch attacks from nothing.
Then at fly-half Ben Thomas has cemented himself as a first team squad member with 41 appearances, but is yet to be seen as a nailed on starter either at 10, 12 or 15. Potentially he is the second best attacking 10 in the squad, and with plenty of competition in midfield he has the ability to switch to first receiver for regular game time and to push Jarrod Evans.
All three of these players are clearly talented, but if they don’t get the opportunity to play in the first team then the risk is run of either them not reaching their potential, or taking that potential elsewhere.
There also has to be an eye on the medium-term future as Ethan Lloyd and Ben Burnell begin to team up at the Rags this year. Scrum-half Lloyd played 18 times in the Premiership last year, but as Hill and Bevan fully move up to the first team then there is the opportunity for him to play week-in, week-out. That could well be alongside fly-half Burnell who has played fleetingly for Pontypridd around covid and a serious shoulder injury last year, and will now be looking to string a run of games together.
The approach Dai Young takes with his half-back selections will shape exactly where this Cardiff will go this season and where we are planning on going over the next few years. A bid for short-term success would be great but is unlikely, and if it harms medium-term success is difficult to understand in my mind. It’s the time for drastic action as the squad overhaul continues.