Every summer there’s an element of merry-go-round about the Indigo Group Welsh Premiership’s recruitment and retention, with the majority of clubs seeing a good size turnover in players.
With few, if any, players on a more than one-year agreement it means that they are free to join other clubs over the off-season, and with them being semi-professional there are often considerations from outside of rugby whether it be work, university or a house move that impact where a player might want to play, even before taking into account whether they are wanted by a club.
Despite a number of successful seasons Cardiff are no different in that sense as, while the spine of the team has largely remained the same, there has been a significant amount of turnover around that as players struggled for regular game time, completed studies at local universities and moved away, or found travelling to the Arms Park twice a week for training too much around their personal lives.
Complicating matters further for the Rags is that, as the second team of the club, it forms a vitally important step in the pathway, looking to bridge the gap between age grade rugby and the first team for Academy members and young professionals. Those that impress at the Premiership level are then moved up into United Rugby Championship contention as the next young player takes their place.
So the trick for Steve Law, Gruff Rees and the coaching staff each season is integrating the existing semi-professionals, the existing Academy/young professionals, the new semi-professionals and the new Academy members into a cohesive unit. On the evidence of the season so far, they seem to have integrated very well.
In the pack the likes of Marc Thomas and Ellis Thomas have been terrific additions to the semi-pro ranks, adding experience and physicality to the strength in depth, while Rhys Barratt has made important contributions over the last month as he makes the move into senior rugby after impressing for Cardiff Met and Wales U20 last season.
It’s behind the scrum where the most impact has come though, especially with Dan Fish, Ryan Wilkins, Ioan Evans and Jacob Beetham, all key men from last season, sidelined through injury.
Ben Burnell has looked assured when wearing 10, while Harrison James has rapidly matured in front of the eyes of those who watch the Rags week-in, week-out, coming off the bench to control the final quarter of games, starting at 10 and starting at 12, bringing an attacking eye and a huge boot to proceedings at just 18 years old.
Outside them Arron Pinches has been an inspired signing. After a good few years at Merthyr the centre has made the switch down the A470 to the capital and brought a physical edge to the midfield on both sides of the ball, particularly acting as a defensive leader and organiser.
And finally, into the back three, where recent professional game leavers Joe Goodchild and Dewi Cross have each contributed important performances and, crucially, important tries, as the Rags have gone seven from seven across the league and cup so far this campaign.
As the aforementioned injuries return to fitness over the next few weeks and months, alongside more youngsters from the Academy getting game time, it feels as if the Blue and Blacks are in a really good place at the moment.
Images taken by Viv Jones