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Young pleased as he aims to build versatility and strength in depth in squad

First Team News | 27th April 2021

Dai Young was pleased with how his young players stepped up to play in unfamiliar positions, as he aims to build strength in depth in the Cardiff Blues squad.

The capital city side opened their Guinness PRO14 Rainbow Cup campaign with a defeat to an experienced Ospreys outfit, but Young had opted to give a number of players valuable game-time, with Celtic Cup and Premiership rugby on hold due to the pandemic.

Young, who returned to the Arms Park as director of rugby in January, took the opportunity to assess his squad and give players a chance to make their claim for a spot in the first team.

The match also saw the likes of James Ratti (number eight), Owen Lane (outside centre) and Ben Thomas (full back) all featuring in unfamiliar positions, for the first time on the senior stage.

The director of rugby is confident the club will benefit from versatility in the long term and praised the individual performances of Lane and Thomas.

“I was pretty pleased with them. It wasn’t a case of playing them out of position but more about whether they could play in those positions moving forward,” explained the former Wales international.

“Looking at next season, we need to see what we’ve got and it’s then my job to improve the depth and strength of the squad.

“Having players who can play in more than one position will help us to do that.

“Laney has played a lot of his age grade rugby at 12 and 13 so it’s not totally alien to him.

“He defended really well, and most of our work in the first half was in defence, and we didn’t have much of the ball.

“But he looked dangerous when he did have the ball in his hands, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch for him to play at 13.

“He looked pretty comfortable at it and considering that’s his first game in that position for a while, he did pretty well.

“We all know he’s an international wing and he’s demonstrated that in the past. But I think he’s more than capable of being a real quality centre as well.

“I’m trying to grow the squad and making sure I’ve got people who can play in numerous positions, but the main thing for Laney now is to stay injury-free, staying on the field and getting as much minutes under his belt as possible.

“We know Ben [Thomas] can play at 10 but you look at next season, where we have Rhys Priestland and Jarrod on board, we also know he can play at 12. 

“We’ve also got Willis and Max, so there’s competition there as well, but we’re not hugely blessed at 15. We’ve got Hallam, who can play there, as well as Nipper, who has had a good season.

“So the most important thing for these youngsters is to get them game time. I know they’ll want to nail one positon down, and I get that, but when you’ve got quality players elsewhere as well the important thing for them is game time.

“Ben has got the skill-set to be comfortable playing at 10, 12 or 15. Full back is a new experience for him but I thought he did well.

“He’s got a great kicking game, good vision to step up and be that second receiver while being under the high ball is always going to be a work on for a 10 or 12 slotting in at 15.

“He showed a lot of promise, but the main thing for Ben is to get as much minutes under his belt as possible, whether that’s at 10, 12 or 15. I’m sure he won’t mind that, and that’s my goal for him.”

Another stand-out performer at Liberty Stadium on Saturday was centre Max Llewellyn, with the youngster, who signed professional terms with the club last summer, providing a try and an assist in the second half.

Young was happy to see the powerful academy product putting his hand up, as he looks to challenge the likes of Willis Halaholo, Rey Lee-Lo, Harri Millard and Ben Thomas for a midfield spot at the Arms Park.

“You only have to look at him to see that he’s a big guy, and he’s shown some real physicality going forward today and defensively he was very good,” added the former prop.

“In the first half we didn’t have much opportunity as a team to attack in the right areas, but in the second half he came onto the ball really strongly and showed a quick pair of heels to finish that try off.

“So I was pleased, but I was pleased with a lot of our players who were up against a much more experienced team.

“Our players did really well, but with the ball we still need to be better.

“More performances like that won’t do him any harm, but we all know the potential in Max and we all know what a quality player he’s going to be.

“I told him ahead of today to go out there and put his hand up, and I think he did that.”