Thursday, June 13, 2013

What Player Drain?

Much has been made of the "player drain" from Wales and the apparent negative effect on Welsh rugby. The Welsh rugby doomsdayers foretell that it will be the death of regional rugby and leave the national team underprepared and overused.
What about the other side of the coin though? Big name players leaving their regions does open up spaces and wages for young, talented players that may otherwise miss out on the opportunity. All the while the apparent stars still play regular competitive rugby thus expanding the pool of professional players in Wales.
With that in mind, here are a few players who may now get a well deserved chance to play for their regions next season.
Cardiff Blues
Cory Allen for Jamie Roberts
Many wondered how the Blues will cope when man mountain of a centre Jamie Roberts announced his intentions to move to France. Fortunately for the capital's region they have another gigantic and hugely talented centre waiting in the wings. 
At 6'3" and almost 16 stone, 20 year old Allen is made from the same mould as Wales' current backs. Another product of the Welsh 7s system, Allen is strong, evasive and very quick. The 7s route is one that has already work will for Wales and Cardiff with another giant back, Alex Cuthbert. Allen's regional career has been limited so far, but he has proven himself suited to the 15 man game with impressive performances for the Under 20s.
Still not sure about Allen? Maybe this will help change you mind? 

Newport-Gwent Dragons
Ieuan Jones for Dan Lydiate
Any sport would be better with more Dan Lydiates in it. Lydiate is a man willing to put his body on the line for the better of his team. He is physically and mentally tough to a level rarely seen, giving 100% effort, 100% of the time. It's that attitude that has booked him a spot in Gatland's Lions squad despite missing the majority of the season and it's no secret that the Dragons will not want to lose him to Racing Metro. Lydiate has gone though, and that leaves a gaping hole in the backrow along side Lewis Evans and Toby Faletau. Tom Brown has regularly filled that gap in Lydiate’s absence, but as the season gains momentum and injuries and international duties mount more cover will be needed. Step forward Ieuan Jones. 
Jones' stock is slowly rising as the 19 year old former carpenter from Aberbargoed continues to impress when given the opportunity, not least against Bayonne in the Amlin Cup before Mike Phillips eventually broke the Gwent Men's hearts. Jones has had to balance his time with Wales under 20s with covering for injuries at Rodney Parade, but should his form continue in this vein he can expect more first team appearances in the coming season.
Jordan Williams for George North
As the Rabo Direct Pro 12 drew near its conclusion, the talk around Welsh rugby should have been the enthralling and nail biting battle between West Walian rivals for the final playoff spot. Instead, a shadow was cast over the whole thing. At 6'4" and over 17 stone, George North has the ability to cast a shadow big enough on his own. This time though it was Gogzilla’s impending move to Northampton that eclipsed any sporting spectacle at the Parc Y Scarlets or Liberty Stadium. North is a jewel in Welsh rugby's crown and the loss of him to a club of the bitter rivals over the bridge signalled a low point in the exodus of Welsh talents. It’s near impossible to find a direct replacement for North. He has strength in abundance and pace to burn. He is as happy to run direct and take contact as he is able to be evasive. North is a freak in the nicest possible sense of the word.
His position will need to be filled at the Scarlets though and Jordan Williams may be the man. Not a man of monstrous strength, Williams is as good on his feet as Hermes. A fast and evasive runner with an eye for the try line, Williams is best deployed at fullback where he has appeared regularly for Llanelli and Wales under 20s and camoed for the Scarlets. With modern rugby blurring the lines of the back three either he or, most likely Liam Williams, could take adjusting to the wing slot in their stride with the other at 15.
Tom Habberfield for Kahn Fotuali'i
The Ospreys have a history of playing overseas players at scrum half; Jason Spice, Justin Marshall, Jamie Nutbrown, Ricky Januarie and Kahn Fotuali'i have all pulled on the black number 9. Italian scrum half Tito Tebaldi is the latest name added to the list of multinational nines playing their trade at the Liberty. With Fotuali'i leaving Swansea for pastures new many felt Rhys Webb would be the one fighting for the half back position, but injury has rules Webb out of the start of the season. That signals a move up the pecking order for Bridgend boy Tom Habberfield in order to put pressure on Tebaldi and he is more than capable of doing so.
A scrum half forced to cover the wing toward the end of the season, little has been seen of Habberfield and regional level in his favoured position. His performances in the red of Wales for both the Under 21s and 7s have been impressive though and the injury to Webb may give him the boost he needs to finally grasp the role at 9 having spent a long time learning from Fotuali'i and waiting in the wings.
Though Wales may be losing some big names, there are some stars at the start of an exciting journey just coming out of the starting blocks. Young, vibrant and talented, these kids aren't alright... They are much better than that.
The Offspring - The Kids Aren't Alright

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