The final part of the Team Report sees us get into the quick boys in the back three. After the general opinion of our half-back and centre ranks being that there is plenty of quality but perhaps one or two players short, it’s a similar story here. The realisation is that, although Danny Wilson’s squad trimming is good for increased quality, we are left hoping to avoid any injury crisis,
Starting on the wing and Cardiff’s top try scorer since 2003, Tom James. With 49 tries to his name over eight seasons he made a successful return to the Arms Park last year following a spell at Exeter. Finishing last year with the most tries, 10 in 18 games, he even managed to force his way back into the Team Wales squad after previously falling out with Warren Gatland.
At 29 years old James is right at the peak of his career, and if he can go another injury free season, can easily break the 50 try and 150 appearances marker by May. He’s got all the attributes of a top winger with height and strength combining with a turn of pace, as well as being one of the best finishers in the league. Benefitted greatly from a much wider attacking game last year, hopefully something new backs coach Matt Sherratt can add to.
Joining TJ in the Welsh international wing attack at CAP is Alex Cuthbert. With 16 tries from 43 appearances in international rugby he has certainly proven that he is capable of performing at the highest level. However the last two years have been somewhat of a struggle for Cuthbert who has seen him lose his Wales place before missing the New Zealand tour through injury.
A confidence crisis has been the big issue, from scoring in Lions tests to crossing just four times in 18 games for Cardiff in a year. However, there were glimpses of the old Cuthy returning last season as he scored four times in 11 matches before injury, a=including back-to-back scores against Montpellier. This season will be all about consistency for Cuthbert, who needs to avoid injuries and requires the patience of fans.
Looking to complete the Welsh capped back three is new signing Matthew Morgan who arrives from Bristol looking to really kick on with his international career. He moved to England after making 65 appearances for the Ospreys over four years, scoring 325 points in the process, before leaving to gain more playing time. That worked to an extent at Bristol, but with Gatland’s Law supposedly coming into effect soon he has returned to Wales with former coach Danny Wilson.
Although he can play at fly-half I think it is most likely we will find Morgan at full-back, where his happy and comfortable to play. I would suggest that is his best position as he does lack the presence to play stand-off and is at his best counter-attacking from deep. However, his ability to fill in there will be crucial and hopefully he can develop an understanding with Gareth Anscombe or Steve Shingler at fly-half as Rhys Patchell did last year.
Challenging Morgan for the 15 jersey will be the one and only Dan Fish. Now into his seventh season the cult legend is closing in on the 100 cap club and will provide strong competition at full-back after an excellent season last season where he won the Cardiff Blues Blog Most Improved Player award thanks in part to nine tries from 26 games.
Happy to cover at wing as well, Fish possesses a huge amount of pace and some rapid acceleration which, as well as being an expert contact avoider, means he is an overall elusive runner. Most effective when hitting the offensive lane from deep he has also benefitted massively from the wide and fast attacking game played under Danny Wilson last season.
Someone looking to make more of an impact in their second season at the Arms Park is American international Blaine Scully. After signing from Leicester last summer he struggled to really make his mark upon the side and was limited to just 10 starts, scoring twice. An industrious winger, also capable of playing full-back, he really requires a run of games to get settled in the side.
Also requiring a run of games is young Aled Summerhill as he enters his first full season as a senior player. With six tries from 15 total appearances last season there’s no doubt he has talent and could make it as a top player, but he needs that consistency of playing week in, week out to develop into that. A former Welsh premiership Player of the Year and Wales youth international he has achieved all there is to achieve thus far.
At 6’2″ he is a presence, but also possesses a decent amount of pace, making him an excellent finisher and candidate for winger at this stage of his career. However, he has also featured at full-back and outside centre at different points in his career, so alongside gaining that consistency of playing every week he also needs to nail down a primary position to avoid a James Hook style ‘Mr Versatile’ situation.
The final part of the back three setup for 2016/17 is a new signing into the senior academy squad. Rhun Williams arrives from Rygbi Gogledd Cymru 1404 after a successful summer as Wales U20s starting full-back to further his development at the Arms Park. The 19 year old is already though of highly in Welsh rugby circles and will hopefully live up to potential here.
Likely to spend most of his time playing for Cardiff RFC and the BIC/LV Cup squads, I do hope he will get a chance at Pro12 action for some added experience in his debut season. Like Dan Fish, he is at his best joining the offensive line at deep and has a wicked show-and-go dummy pass in his locker to create a line break. I imagine he’ll mainly feature on the wing for any senior squads this year, but any experience is good experience at this stage.
Overall there’s some excellent options and good versatility to cover right across the back three from the players in this group. Most importantly, there are tries in abundance! If Cardiff can continue to move the ball through the midfield like they did last season then the talent is waiting to convert the chances. Fingers crossed we can go one better this year and top the Pro12 scoring charts on the way to the Champions Cup. Come on Cardiff!!