Cardiff Blues can confirm that they have retained a number of quality Welsh talents and have extended the contracts to some of the best young rugby players in the Country.
Following on from the news that Sam Warburton and Tom James have signed new contracts, three further Welsh international Blues players have also signed contract extensions with the region: Leigh Halfpenny, Bradley Davies and Chris Czekaj.
Halfpenny made the first of his 50 appearances for the Blues against Ulster at Ravenhill in May 2008, scoring 3 conversions in the 17-26 victory.
Later in 2008 he won his first welsh cap in the first game of the Autumn Internationals against world champions, South Africa. He scored his first points for Wales from a penalty kick in the 15–20 loss and went on to score his first two tries a week later against Canada.
A deadly finisher Leigh has scored 16 tries so far in his Blues career, and almost 200 points, including two tries for the region in the EDF Energy Cup final win over Gloucester at Twickenham and also one in the Amlin Challenge Cup Final win over Toulon in Marseille the following season.
Halfpenny was included in the British & Irish Lions squad for the tour to South Africa in May 2009 but had to return home from the Lions tour due to a recurrence of a thigh injury.
Speaking of his decision to sign a contract extension with the Blues Halfpenny said,
“I’m really pleased to have extended my stay at the Blues.”
“It’s a great club and I had no doubt that this is who I wanted to sign with and happy that we have come to an agreement.”
“I’ve not been tempted to play anywhere else as it’s a very ambitious club and the quality players we have here, with some good youngsters coming through, the future looks very bright.”
“You couldn’t ask for better training facilities, which are fantastic and for me there’s no better place for a rugby player to be.”
“We are seeing the Welsh talent coming through and it’s great that they have decided to stay with the region.”
“We won two titles in the last two years but we still have ambitions of winning more in the future which is why most of the players have extended their contracts.”
At 6ft 6ins tall and weighing over 19st Bradley Davies is a formidable force on the rugby pitch. Hailing from Llantrisant, the second rower captained Wales Under-19 to the Grand Slam in 2005 and the 2006/07 season saw him established in the senior Blues squad and he’s gone on to make 79 appearances for Cardiff Blues.
His energy and commitment around the field has impressed the Blues faithful and in the summer of 2008 he was selected in the Wales squad to tour South Africa but was not able to play due to injury. During the 2009 Six Nations Championship Davies made his Wales debut as a late replacement against Scotland.
Bradley Davies said, “It’s great news to have signed, not only for me personally, but for the rest of the boys who have signed also.”
“It’s nice that we have got a core of young players who have extended their contracts and can drive the region forward.”
“I think our academy system is showing it’s worth now, a lot of the boys have stepped up and played at a high level, either Heineken Cup, regional rugby or international level.”
“There’s great work being done at the Academy in Trefforest and the region is bearing the fruits of that.”
Speaking of the competition in the second row, Davies continued,
“I think people like Deiniol Jones and Paul Tito still have a lot to offer but we also have some youngsters like Macauley Cook coming through and James Down has also signed up also, so it’s good we have so much strength in the second row.”
“Personally I think it’s nice to play with boys I’ve grown up with, so it’s good to see the players who I came through the system alongside, getting the recognition with new contracts.”
Davies, who has become one of the stand out players for the Blues and Wales this season added,
“I always aim to improve with every game and I’d like to think I’ve brought a bit more consistency to my performances. I have to play to the best of my ability every week, otherwise I won’t get picked, such is the quality of players we have here at the Blues and in Wales.”
“It all starts with the region and if I play well for the Blues I hope I’ll continue to be picked for Wales.”
Chris Czekaj, who is on course to play his 100th match for the Blues against the Ospreys this weekend added,
“I’ve been six seasons with the Blues now and I’d be stupid to want to move with the progress that the team has made over the last few years.”
“I’ve really enjoyed the move from wing to full-back this season and I prefer playing full back now to be honest, so that’s where I see myself from now on.”
“I find you get more ball at full-back and I get to use my kicking game a lot more. You also get to see a lot more of the attacking opportunities from there.”
“Dan Fish has come through this season and put in some good performances, and he’s taken his chance well so it’s good to have that type competition along side a lot more established player such as Ben Blair.”
“A few boys I’ve played Age Grade and Academy rugby have signed also, so I think that’s a reflection on where we want to drive the region forward and that we are happy with all the facilities.”
The Blues have also been boosted by the news that Dafydd Hewitt, Josh Navidi, Andries Pretorius and James Down have also signed contract extensions.
Hewitt has taken his chance at centre for the Blues this season with some hard hitting tackles and powerful breaks winning many admirers. Having played over 50 matches for the Blues, Hewitt captained the team for the first time in January having previously captained Wales in the IRB Under-21 World Cup tournament in France in 2006.
Born and bred in South Africa, Cardiff Blues back row forward Andries Pretorius moved to the U.K. in 2006 to study Business at Hartpury College in Gloucestershire, an establishment which has a proud rugby tradition. The powerful back rower from Durban has made steady progress since making his debut for the Blues against Connacht in December 2009, playing 17 games this season including 12 starts.
A bright prospect for the future, Open-side Forward Josh Navidi played for Wales Under 20’s in all of the 2010 Under 20’s Six Nations Tournament and lead the Wales Under 20’s to victory against France at Newport. He made his senior Blues debut against Heineken Cup champions, Leinster at the RDS in 2009, coming on as a replacement for Scott Morgan.
A big powerful second row forward, James Down, is another product of the Academy system. He missed most of the 2009/10 season with a knee ligament injury. He started the 2010/11 strongly, with some impressive performances, but frustratingly for the youngster he suffered a broken foot against Ulster in November, which will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.
Speaking of the contract extension, Cardiff Blues Director of Rugby, David Young, said,
“I think it’s been well documented that we have to be sensible with our budgets and making sure that we are not overstretching ourselves financially.”
“However, that doesn’t mean that we don’t have ambition, we want to be up there pushing with the big guys.”
“Obviously it’s important that we retain our quality players, as we look to rebuild, as all teams do.”
“This is a part of that process, and a very important part, because over the next 12 to 18 months these players will be crucial and a big part of the future of Cardiff Blues over the next three or four years.”
“It’s always been important to me to develop local Welsh talent.”
“I think it’s certainly the way forward, but it is something that we’ve done for a long time, and certainly under my reign as a Blues Coach. Over a third of our current squad have come through the Academy system.”
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“As time goes on that is going to become more and more important.”
“The non Welsh factor needs to be relied on less and less each season, so it’s important that we put the hard work and money in to develop these players and making sure the pathway is there for these players to come through.”