Garyn Smith is relishing the challenge for centre stage as preparations for the 2019/20 campaign continue.
The Pontypridd-born back graduated from the Cardiff Blues academy, and has gone on to feature 82 times for his home region, signing a new contract over the summer to extend his stay at Cardiff Arms Park.
With Rey Lee-Lo potentially heading to the Rugby World Cup in Japan with Samoa, Smith will be competing against the likes of Willis Halaholo, Ben Thomas and Harri Millard for a spot in John Mulvihill’s midfield.
A series of injuries to Cardiff Blues’ back three ranks saw Smith occupy a place on the wing at times last season, and he insists he is more than happy to adapt according to the side’s needs.
“It’s superb to see Rey going to the World Cup. It’s fully deserved because he’s been outstanding for us, and had another brilliant season last season,” said the former Wales under-20 international.
“We all know what he can do with his line-break abilities, his try-scoring abilities and his ability to beat defenders. He’s world class.
“It’s going to be tough in attack with Rey heading to Japan, but we’ve still got a lot of quality on offer with the likes of Willis, Harri and Ben Thomas. There’s a real good competition in the centre at the moment.
“I’m putting my head down and working hard during pre-season to put my hand up for selection when the new season kicks off.
“I prefer to play in the centre, but I’m happy to slot in on the wing but it’s about fitting in for the benefit of the team and I’m more than happy to do that.
“I’ve gained a bit of experience out wide, and come up against some great teams like Gloucester in Bilbao and Saracens. It’s a tough competition when you come up against some of the best teams, but to show that I can play in games of that calibre, and do it playing out of position has given me confidence in what I can do both in attack and defence.
I can contribute to this team, but my main focus this season is to concentrate on getting as many minutes as possible in the centre - whether that’s at 12 or 13.”
This summer has seen the Cardiff Blues squad switch their training venue to the Arms Park, and Smith believes the side are in prime position to kick off the season with a bang.
He added: “Fair play, every one has come back in great shape and fitness after the off-season, and every one has exceeded their targets in the tests.
“The difference really shows in the training games that we have, and the anaerobic games are really pushing us to the limit. It’s tough but we keep the chat going in the games and everyone is working hard for each other.
“We need to keep that attitude going throughout pre-season and I think that will put us in good stead when the start of the season arrives.
“We can’t fault it, the move down to the Arms Park has been smooth and easy. Staff, such as Matt Jones [groundsman], have been working flat out to make it work and fair play it’s been an excellent job.
“The medical room is superb, with plenty of room in there and the boys are over the moon with that. The gym is outstanding, and is no different to what we had back at the Vale, and with the nice weather, the boys have taken the opportunity to move outside and train in the sun!
“The boys are happy down here, and being in the centre of Cardiff there’s plenty of life around the place and plenty of coffee shops for the boys to chill at.
“The atmosphere is outstanding and the boys have really bought into the changes that have been made. As a squad we’re happy to crack on and continue to work hard and control the controllable, and the commitment shown in training so far is perfect.
“We used to be separated from the office staff, so it’s nice to see the business joining up. It’s an opportunity for everyone to interact and get to know each other, and that will only make it easier off the pitch.
“We’re becoming a cohesive group, and we all have the same aims which is to work hard for what is best for the region and push to be the best in the PRO14 and in Europe.
“Everyone is pulling towards the same direction and I’m sure that will become clear as we approach the new season.”
The 24-year-old has already displayed his maturity and leadership skills, and is a member of the Cardiff Blues leadership group, as well as being one of the leading figures in the side’s defensive efforts.
Smith joined the leadership group last summer, alongside Owen Lane, with the group also including senior professionals such as Nick Williams, Ellis Jenkins and Lloyd Williams.
The former Wales under-20 international is keen to develop his leadership skills and believes the group are able to create an atmosphere for the team to thrive.
“I was pulled into the leadership group last season as one of the younger boys involved, and it’s been great to listen to senior players like Nick Williams and Kristian Dacey. It’s about developing my leadership role within the group and pick traits from the more senior boys.
“The leadership day at the Hugh James offices earlier this week was good experience. It made us think of people and how they differ in their thinking and how there are different personalities and behaviours within a team sport.
“We have a lot of different types of personalities in the squad, and you can see how some of the boys react in different ways, and it helped us learn how to talk to those boys and help in those situations.
“It will help the leaders within the group to bring the best out of each player in the squad, which enables us to do the best for the team.”
Smith has also turned his hand to coaching, and is part of the Cardiff Blues South under-16 backroom staff for the upcoming Regional Age Grade Championship campaign.
The academy product is delighted to contribute to the next generation of Cardiff Blues stars, and believes the experience will boost his development as a player.
“Towards the end of last season, Bubba [Scott Andrews] was looking for coaches to help out with the combined under-16 teams, and when he asked I jumped on the opportunity.
“I had enjoyed my previous experiences of coaching and it was another chance to gain more experience and opens up options for the future as well.
“Gruff Rees asked me if I would be interested in continuing to coach for the upcoming season and put me in contact with the Cardiff Blues south coaches, and it’s been great to work with them over the last four weeks.
“Hopefully I’ve still got quite a few years to go in my playing careers, but I’m still looking at different avenues and options down the line.
“I also do it for the enjoyment, because it’s satisfying to help these youngsters to develop and improve their rugby skills.
“It’s good to see boys who have played for the region being able to give something back to the next generation of players. You have the likes of Melon, Richie Rees and TRT involved with the academy, and they have the experience and quality of playing on the international level.
“It’s great for the youngsters to learn from those boys and develop their skills. They’re learning from the very best.
“Coaching has opened up my thinking in terms of how to break down the opposition’s defence, and also how to stop attacking threats, and it’s huge in terms of developing my knowledge and I can bring that into my game as a player and understand how to develop my role.”