This summer has been more about departures than arrivals for Cardiff Blues, but new coach Justin Burnell is adamant young talent will help the club improve on last year’s sixth-place finish in the RaboDirect Pro12.
Dai Young’s 15-year spell with the club ended when he took on London Wasps’ director of rugby role in June, although his son Thomas, an openside flanker for the Welsh Under-20s last season, will have his chance to continue the Young dynasty in the Welsh capital.
And with veteran Martyn Williams back with the Blues after missing out on World Cup selection, Burnell believes Young couldn’t have a better role model to learn from.
“We’ve given a few of our youngsters some opportunities in pre-season games, and Thomas was able to come on and show what he can do,” said former Pontypridd flanker Burnell who is heading up the coaching team with Gareth Baber.
“It’s an ideal situation, if you’ve got aspirations and you are good enough to become a professional player, now is the ideal time with everyone away at the World Cup, so it’s a massive opportunity for our academy and fringe players.
“It’s a case of them playing when the opportunity arises and what we have now is that opportunity and it’s up to them to take it. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword though, because the opportunity is there, but they also have to be good enough.
“I was surprised Martyn missed out on Wales to be honest. I think he’s one of the best opensides in Europe.
“I’m obviously very disappointed for Martyn, he’s really looking forward to coming back into the environment and you look at the likes of Ellis Jenkins, Thomas Young and Josh Navidi, you couldn’t have a better person helping them through.
“From a rugby perspective someone with that much experience will be great going into that first game, alongside the likes of Casey [Laulala] and Paul [Tito] who also bring a lot of experience.”
It’s not just in the back row where Burnell expects young players to have an impact in the first weeks of the season.
With Jamie Roberts and Leigh Halfpenny both travelling to New Zealand with Wales, and Dan Parks part of Andy Robinson’s Scotland squad, Burnell has tipped young three-quarter Alex Cuthbertson to make his mark this season.
“Alex has impressed in the warm-up games and he’ll be desperate to put the pressure on the guys coming back.
“We don’t want to be waiting and begging that the players come back from the World Cup and play.
“When Leigh Halfpenny returns we want him to have to work to get back into the team.
“But then again you can’t forget Leigh’s a world class winger or full-back.”
“We’re aiming to get into that top four, depending how our players come back from the World Cup and different things.
“You can never foresee whether people will come back with injuries but that’s the thing with our younger players, it’s up to them.”