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LionsWatch Club Profile: Cardiff Blues

LionsWatch Club Profile: Cardiff Blues

After a seventh-place finish last campaign, optimism is high around BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park that Danny Wilson’s revolution can help catapult the Cardiff Blues to the play-offs and top-level European rugby.

Cardiff Blues had four Test Lions on the 2013 Tour to Australia

After a seventh-place finish last campaign, optimism is high around BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park that Danny Wilson’s revolution can help catapult the Cardiff Blues to the play-offs and top-level European rugby.

The Welsh capital has a fantastic Lions tradition with famed 1971 half-back duo Gareth Edwards and Barry John among those to make significant marks in Lions history.  

BBC Scrum V presenter Ross Harries has a better sense than most of the club’s progress, and its Lions prospects.

And Harries likes what he has seen in the early stages from a Blues side that struggled with inconsistency last season.

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“You have to remember that last year during the Rugby World Cup, BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park was a fanzone and the Blues were on the road for five of the first six games of the season,” he said.

“They only won one of those first six games and from there were definitely playing catch-up. By the end of the season they were one of the form sides in the competition.
 
“But their away form was a problem – they only won once all season on their travels.
 

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“Already this season they have gone to Munster and won and it is noticeable how far they have come under Danny Wilson.

“He has trimmed the squad, and speaking to the players that has made a big difference. The style of play as well is fantastic, they are not afraid to get it wide but only after they have built a platform first up front.

“Last year they finished so well that, without the bad start, they could have been challenging for the play-offs and certainly this year the hope is that is the case.”
 
NEW ZEALAND 2017 CONTENDERS
 
Sam Warburton – skipper of the Lions in 2013 – will be aiming for spot on the plane to New Zealand next year. 

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Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton after victory in the decisive third Test in 2013

The Wales skipper led the Lions to an historic series victory over the Wallabies – although injury forced him to miss the decisive third Test.

Warren Gatland was last week confirmed as the Head Coach again for the 2017 Tour, and for Harries, communication and leadership are among Warburton's greatest qualities. 

“It is not just what Warburton does on the pitch though, the way he communicates with referees is vital and could be crucial in New Zealand, the way he stands as the figurehead with all the media duties that come with it.

“Gatland recognises being a modern captain is about the whole package and while Gareth Thomas came on our Scrum V show and picked Dylan Hartley to captain the Lions next year, for me it should still be Warburton.”

There are other Cardiff Blues firmly in contention for spots on the plane to New Zealand – not least Gethin Jenkins.

Gethin Jenkins: a tourist in 2005, 2009 and 2013

The Wales loosehead was recalled to the starting line-up against the All Blacks in June and is targeting a fourth Lions Tour next year. 

“Everyone thought his time had been and gone for Wales, he is our most capped player of all time but against the All Blacks he was back,” notes Harries.

“It seemed too fanciful and romantic to think he would tour with the Lions again but now that does not seem such a crazy idea.

"Around the park he is like a fourth back-rower. I spoke to Wales forwards coach Robin McBryde recently and he thinks Gethin can make it – what a story that would be.” 

In addition to Warburton and Jenkins, there is another 2013 Lion at the Blues in Alex Cuthbert.

“Speaking to coaches and players at the Blues, they say that Alex is looking as fit as he ever has,” added Harries.

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Alex Cuthbert goes over for his try in the first Test against the Wallabies in 2013

“He has had a full pre-season to get his body right. His contribution in 2013 is often forgotten as George North took the headlines but with a strong season there is no reason Cuthbert could not be back on the plane."
 
BOLTER POTENTIAL
 
Beyond those three Lions from four years ago, there are a host of newer faces at the Blues that could break out onto the big stage this campaign.

New Zealand-born Gareth Anscombe has impressed at fly-half in the early stages of this season while flanker Ellis Jenkins won his first Wales cap in New Zealand this summer to name but two.

“Anscombe is an interesting one – with the new Wales squad rules he should get Rhys Priestland’s spot in the Wales matchday squad,” added Harries.

“But there is a lot of competition for fly-half in the Lions squad, with Owen Farrell, George Ford, Dan Biggar and the 2013 incumbent Jonathan Sexton all there.

“It would take a real bolt from the blue to get Anscombe in there and someone like Ellis Jenkins is a future Test Lion – of that I have no doubt.

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Ellis Jenkins won his first Wales cap this summer in New Zealand

“But 2017 might just come too soon for an openside flanker like him who is third in line to the Wales No.7 shirt as it stands.

“Other names to keep an eye on include Tom James, so impressive for the Blues last season that he was called up by Wales but did not take his chance against the Chiefs.

“But he looks right back to his best again this season and alongside Dan Fish, who impresses week in week out, they are two to keep an eye on.”
 
LIONS IN HISTORY
 
If you go back beyond regional rugby, Cardiff has always had a fantastic tradition of providing Lions.

All the way back to Edwards and John the Welsh capital club has seen more than its fair share of stars in the famous red jersey.

Cardiff RFC provided 71 Lions players – of which 55 went on to become Test Lions, while the Blues have had 16 and counting. 

And that is without including the likes of Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardiff Institute and Medicals who have all contributed as well.

In 2013 they had four Test Lions in Warburton, Cuthbert, Jamie Roberts and man of the series Leigh Halfpenny.

“I don’t think we will see four Test Lions like we had in 2013 – Jamie and Leigh have moved on now,” added Harries.

“But there is a fine tradition at this club of providing Lions and with Warburton and Jenkins I would think we have two, and then who knows what could happen.

“We saw in 2013 that one game changed everything, Wales beat England in Cardiff and it turned selection on its head as Gatland himself admitted.”
 
Ross Harries is a reporter and TV presenter on Welsh rugby, he is the face of BBC Wales's flagship rugby show – Scrum V

Cardiff Blues
Captain: Gethin Jenkins
Director of Rugby: Danny Wilson
Website: www.cardiffblues.com
Twitter: @cardiff_blues
Year founded: 1876
Home ground: BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park
 

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