Team Report: Back Three

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The Team Report draws to a close with the headline grabbers of the back three, and it does so in a positive manner with plenty of quality, experience and talent at Dai Young’s disposal.

There’s a fresh new look to the back three ranks this season with a new arrival and talent stepping up from the Academy, with an exciting time for supporters to see some top international quality and future stars in action.

It starts with the stand out man at Cardiff, Wales and in international rugby generally over the last few years as Josh Adams continues to be one of the best wingers in the world. Six tries in 18 games across the club and country season, including scoring in South Africa while not 100% fit, and in a campaign that was off the back of an emotionally and physically draining Lions tour, is a good return.

Still only 27, and having had a quieter summer that still included another tour to South Africa and getting married, Adams has time now to get his knee right and push on to be in top form ahead of next year’s World Cup.

He is joined at the top of the winger pecking order by Owen Lane who had an up-and-down campaign last time out with a strong start, before being one of the players noticeably impacted by the quantity of games played in the second half of the season with only tries against Zebre and Saracens coming in that run. Still a prodigiously talented finisher, the 24-year-old has work-ons in defence but with a full pre-season under his belt will hopefully push on and look to earn an international recall.

Pushing them all the way though are two very able back-ups, with Theo Cabango the first of those looking to build on an eye-catching breakthrough year. The 20-year-old built on getting an opportunity in the misfits games last December when selected on the delayed trip to South Africa and did not look back, starting eight of the last nine games and scoring three tries with his incredible pace, surprising strength and eye for the line.

Aled Summerhill is still in contention too as the Rhondda Rocket looks to bounce back from a season of frustration where injury and some pecking order leapfrogging from others restricted him to just five appearances in all competitions. At 27 and with 80 appearances under his belt he is transitioning into a senior member of the squad, and his experience will be vital in key mid-season games when the internationals are away.

Adding depth to the winger chart is Jason Harries who begins his fifth season at the club. The 33-year-old saw himself slip out of contention towards the end of last year thanks to the breakthrough of Cabango, and played twice for the Rags where he may well turn out again in the next 12 months, but can always be relied on to give a solid performance when required in the first team.

As I mentioned in the report on the centres, Harri Millard is also a wing option in the first team, and in my opinion should be seen as primarily a winger before a centre having struggled defensively at times in midfield. With game changing pace and a pathological link-up with Jarrod Evans in his locker, the 26-year-old can reinvent himself as a first team winger given the opportunity.

Mason Grady will also be a wing consideration this season as he continues his step up into being a first team regular, and with his size and speed he has the attributes to be a top winger. Having said that, outside centre should still be the primary focus for the 20-year-old and hopefully wing outings are restricted as he learns the game properly in that 13 jersey.

There is also just the small matter of Liam Williams being an option at both wing and full-back as he joins from Scarlets with nearly 300 club appearances, 72 Wales caps and five British and Irish Lions test caps to his name. At 31 he is still playing high level rugby and will be an asset under the high ball, defensively and as a counter attacker whether at 15 or out wide, as well as a leader around the dressing room.

A key element of that leadership will be acting as a mentor to the young players, particularly Jacob Beetham who is a contender to be the breakout player of the year after injury prevented him from getting a run in the first team at the back end of last season.

Undoubtedly one of the best players in the Indigo Group Premiership last season, let alone in the Rags squad, the 21-year-old is good under the high ball and defensively, but excels in attack where he is a physical career, accomplished playmaker and good footballer having played at fly-half during his youth.

Having that playmaking ability at full-back is something which suits a Matt Sherratt attacking system as we saw back in 2017/18, which means Ben Thomas could well come in to contention for the 15 jersey if required having featured there during the Rainbow Cup in the season before last. He’s demonstrated enough rugby intelligence that positioning shouldn’t be an issue, but he’s yet to be properly tested under the high ball.

It’s likely that Matthew Morgan will continue to feature heavily for Cardiff this season as he begins his seventh campaign at the club. Still a counter attacking livewire who can produce something from nothing, he seemed to lose confidence in his aerial and defensive game again last year, which he will need to rediscover if he wants to keep his place in the pecking order.

That’s because along with the arrival of Williams and the soon-to-be emergence of Beetham, Cameron Winnett is also on his way through the Academy and will be buoyed after making his United Rugby Championship debut in the last round of last season before going on to enjoy a good summer with Wales U20.

A committed defender he is a real attacking threat on the counter attack and in the wide channel where comparisons with Stuart Hogg are made with solid reasoning. The 19-year-old will feature heavily for the Rags this season, but is ready to make the step up to the first team if needed.

All-in-all a pretty stacked back three room with plenty of quality and young talent, alongside some of the best players in the world. As with centre, it will be for Dai Young to strike the right balance in his team selection in order to get the best out of the attributes at his disposal.

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