By Shane Williams
Alex Cuthbert became an easy target for fans towards the end of his career at Cardiff Blues, but he will be a big miss at the Arms Park this season following his move to Exeter.
Luckily for new boss John Mulvihill, I think he’s got a ready-made replacement for the campaign ahead in the shape of Tom James. I really hope he can get back to his best in the next 12 months.
I must say Alex’s move to England is probably the best thing for him at the current stage of his career and while it will always be a blow for any team to lose a player of his calibre, the other side of the coin is that in my opinion the Blues have players who can fill the void. They’re lucky in that regard.
I don’t think they need to worry about the back three too much and Tom is one of the reasons why.
The Blues signed Jason Harries as wing cover this week and I think he can be a very promising player for the region. He’s had a lot of experience with Wales Sevens and the way rugby is going now, it’s becoming more and more beneficial to play the shorter format of the game.
We’ve seen Sevens benefit guys like Justin Tipuric and Hallam Amos on their return to the 15-a-side stuff. I’m not sure Jason is in their class and his first full season with the Blues will be a big test for him. Ultimately, time will tell how successful he is, and I wish him all the best.
On the whole, though, I think the Blues are in a very good place behind the scrum. We saw last season how they won the Challenge Cup in impressive fashion. Tomos Williams, Gareth Anscombe and Jarrod Evans were all very good performers then and Mulvihill will be hoping to see more of the same from them in his first year in charge.
But back to Tom. We all know he’s had issues with injury and I thought he was incredibly brave to open up about his problems with depression. It takes a great deal of courage to admit to yourself and others you’re struggling and need help and, hopefully, he’ll be all the better for it now.
Mental health in sport is something we all need to keep an eye on and great strides have been made in raising awareness of its importance. Tom has played his own part in that and come out the other side by getting married this summer and then returning for pre-season with the Blues.
I was delighted to read he’s back in training and I really do believe a fit and firing Tom can provide the Blues with the devastating strike power and try-scoring prowess they need.
Of course, after what he’s been through Tom must not be rushed. He needs to take his recovery at his own pace and do what he thinks is the right thing at the right time.
If that means he doesn’t play until October or November, then so be it. Hopefully, though, we can see Tom back on the pitch and doing what he does best quite soon because we all know what he’s capable of. I played with and against Tom and I’ve no doubt that if I was Mulvihill, he would be in my first-choice XV. He’s powerful, fit, and very, very physical. He can also shift for a big man. You have to remember, it’s only a little over two years ago that he was playing for Wales in the Six Nations.
I certainly wish him all the best and if Tom can get back firing, I’d urge the Blues to continue their recruitment up front to ensure their backs get the amount of ball they need. In that regard Dmitri Arhip is a huge signing for the Blues. He’ll bring some much-needed grunt to their front row.
At the same time, though, it’s a huge blow for my former team the Ospreys. I think they’ve really dropped a clanger by letting both Dmitri and Jeff Hassler leave. It could prove costly.
Yes, the Ospreys have signed international backs in George North, Scott Williams and Aled Davies, but I do have concerns about what sort of message it sends when Arhip moves to a regional rival.
On the whole though I must say I’ve been impressed with the calibre of signings across the regions. The Scarlets have strengthened again from what is already a very good position and the Dragons have finally brought in some international class.
Ross Moriarty and Rhodri Williams are very good operators and the ones who excite me the most, but there is also my former Ospreys and Wales team-mate Richard Hibbard who I know all too well won’t be throttling back even in the final stages of his career.
At the moment it all paints a positive picture but if there is one story which has got me smiling even before the season has started, it’s Tom’s. I wish you all the best, mate.