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A Back Row Of Riches

By Craig Muncey
June 24 2018

Much has been made after the summer tests in Argentina about the selectional decisions that Warren Gatland has to make in a number of positions for Wales in the upcoming months and years and in particular the back row with so many quality players vying for three positions and rightly so. However, this article looks at a similar challenge incoming coach; John Mulvihill has with the Cardiff Blues for the upcoming season and beyond that.

Last season the season ended with a back row of Josh Navidi, Nick Williams and Ellis Jenkins and that trio individually and as a group had some outstanding performances, however, looming large on the horizon poised to make his return to competitive rugby is Sam Warburton. If we say a return to action and form of “Warbs” does that force his return to the first team when he is available to play for the Cardiff Blues? Or are we going to see another from the group of back rowers on the books force their way in? Let’s take a look at the list of options for next season.

Josh Navidi

A breakthrough season internationally for Josh last season, showing his outstanding form for many years for Cardiff Blues could transfer onto the international stage. Strong over the ball, a good tackler and does have a decent offloading game. Josh is also a strong ball carrier and a few seasons ago when he played a lot at 8 a position I thought he was not big enough for, showed his real worth as a ball carrying threat with his off the mark pace, footwork and low centre of gravity causing more opposing teams plenty of problems. Can play right across the back row, and even if does not get a start is likely due to that versatility be in the matchday squad for the important high profile games next season.

Nick Williams

“Big Nick” had an outstanding season last season. I had concerns over his age and the 4G pitch on his joints causing him problems as the season went on, but if anything his performances improved as the season went on. He is capable of huge hits in defence and over the ball when he gets in the position almost impossible to budge. Is a huge ball carrier, breaking the first line of defence, and forcing other defenders to commit, making mismatches elsewhere. Also has a subtle offloading game also in his box of skills.

Is prone to committing penalties but when he is on the pitch gives Cardiff Blues a real edge in attack and defence. One season on will Mulvihill have to manage his game time? We shall see but is a rumour that Cardiff Blues are in the market for another big physical eight to try to support Nick and the number of games coming up next season. Rumour I have heard is that Robson Blake, previously of the Dragons is joining and even though unproven at this level does have the raw tools to be a decent pick up for the club. Is still young at only 23 and season before the last was playing for Bedwas, but with the crop of back rowers Cardiff Blues have Blake can only learn his trade from them.

Ellis Jenkins

Co-Captain on the Welsh summer tour and all reports that have come out is that many were impressed with his leadership qualities. Ellis is an outstanding player, regularly makes the right decisions in defence and attack and where he stands out over many backrowers in Wales is his ability with the ball. Has outstanding vision and can see opportunities before many and the ability to execute the right pass or ball carry. Can play six or seven as has done many times, but open side is his best position. Another player who is fabulous at the breakdown.

Sam Warburton

Has had a year out of the game for his body to recover after the number of injuries he has picked up in recent years. Warbs has been an outstanding player for Wales and the British and Irish Lions, a true leader and a playing record to be envious of, the question is how his body is and will he return to the levels of previous years? What we do know is that even at around 70% as he has admitted himself he was for the British and Irish Lions on the New Zealand tour, he still played a major part in the drawn series. Defensively, he is magnificent, he knows all the tricks of the trade, and at defensive rucks and breakdowns is as aggressive and disruptive as any back rower in Europe.

A good lineout forward, and Is a good ball carrier and even though not as creative in attack as some does have decent hands. Cardiff Blues will look to manage his game time and with his NDC he won’t play a huge amount of games for Cardiff Blues next season anyway but will need games to put himself back in contention for Wales for the Autumn Series and the Six Nations. Will be really interesting to see if he does come back fully recharged and where he plays regularly, will it be six or seven?

Ollie Robinson

“Robbo” was a pick up from Bristol initially on a loan deal due to the injuries Cardiff Blues had in the back row but immediately fans could see how good this player was and it did not take Cardiff Blues long to pick the player up on a permanent signing. Robbo is a fantastic tackler, hardly ever misses, and good over the ball and runs great support lines for the ball carrier. A real fan favourite and has everyone’s confidence that when selected will let nobody down.

Josh Turnbull

Similarly to Navidi, Turnbull is a player that is great to have in the squad due to his versatility. Can play four, five, six, seven and eight. Played a lot at lock last season, and did well but is a bit undersized for that position, however, with a shortage of high-quality locks at Cardiff Blues currently, and with the strength in the back row positions is that where he will play again? Turnbull does all aspects of forward play well and is a player you know will let nobody down.

I am a bit surprised he has not been tried more at eight, as has good size and good at the lineout, and a decent ball carrier. He may not have the explosion of others such as Navidi or the bulk of Williams but is a steady option if and when required.

Macauley Cook

Cook is a good squad player who can play lock and at six. Has decent pace, a good lineout option and a decent ball carrier. I have heard that Cardiff Blues would like to convert him more into a lock than a back rower and are looking for him to bulk up. Could he make the transition to a full-time lock option? Only time will tell.

Sion Bennett

When Bennett first joined Cardiff Blues from Northampton Saints initially on loan, he put in a few really strong showings mainly playing at 7. A good ball carrier who had a happy knack of scoring tries. Unfortunately, once he joined on a permanent deal seems to have picked up a number of injuries and has hardly been seen in the first team since.

However, did get some game time with Cardiff RFC and hoping that can return to full fitness and form for next season. Does have a good turn of pace and similarly to my comments about Turnbull could be an option at 8 as well as on the flanks. He could be a good squad option.

James Botham

The young flanker has a tough task to get game time for next season with others in front of him. However, is a hard-working flanker who is still learning his trade and just being around the other back rowers in the squad can only aid the player to progress in the game.

Shane Lewis-Hughes

A tall rangy backrower who is another who can play lock or back row. Still young and is developing his game, and under 23 rugby will aid his progression. Has shown up well at different age groups for Wales and is talented. One to keep an eye out for.

In Conclusion

Cardiff Blues have a long season ahead with League and Champions Cup games coming thick and fast, so are plenty of opportunities for the players mentioned getting some game time. As always will come down to injuries and form as to who starts in the biggest games, but looking at the combination and strength of the players this would be my starting back row and the bench cover:

6/ Sam Warburton

7/ Ellis Jenkins

8/ Nick Williams

Bench Cover – Josh Navidi

What are your thoughts on the trio I have selected and my comments on the players, agree/disagree? Let me know.

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A Back Row Of Riches
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24/06/2018 10:53
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Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 2018:06:24:22:33:51 by Craig Muncey.

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