On the latest episode of the Cardiff Blues Podcast, Rhys Williams and Paul Tito joined Mike Brown and gave their take on the influence of some of the region’s most loved signings from abroad.
Players such as Tito, Xavier Rush, Ben Blair and Casey Laulala are still adored on the Arms Park terraces, and many academy graduates would highlight the influence of these stars in their own pathways into the Cardiff Blues first team.
As a homegrown talent, former Wales full back, Williams, says the players influenced the entire club, from top to bottom, and the passion shown for their adopted homes was unrivalled.
“All the Welsh talent could really flourish alongside a real good spine of experience and international experience. That helped us get to an extra level and be competitive on a European stage. You have to have people that care,” said Williams.
“Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC is in my blood, as it was for Nicky Robinson, Jamie Robinson and the youngsters coming through.
“Rushy, Fish, Ben Blair and Casey loved their time here but they cared about the cause as well.
“They loved the city, they loved the environment, they loved the supporters.
“You can obviously feel it from someone who’s home grown but when you get some one from away, who shows how much they care, it connects you more and pulls you through more.
“Fish went on to lead for a number of seasons and each of those players became senior players instantly.
“It didn’t happen over night. It took time and we got more and more signings, while the younger players we were developing grew into top class internationals and all came together as one.
“You had Chris Czekaj playing international rugby and was young at the time, Leigh Halfpenny was coming through.
“The academy boys, with someone like Lloyd Williams also coming through as a youngster and Ellis Jenkins would’ve started in the system, were coming into a place where the level was higher than they would’ve been three or four years previously.
“That’s all because you had a real blend of experience and also success will drive those higher standards.
“The Blues made a massive investment into the training facilities which raised the bar every time. Every time you turned up there you were arriving at a world class facility. That drives the standard alongside it.”
Tito, who is now a coach with Pau, arrived at the Arms Park from Hurricanes as a former captain of Māori All Blacks.
After arriving in Wales, he wanted to become a positive influence on the next generation of stars, and he’s proud to see those boys kicking on to make their mark on both the regional and international game.
‘Fish’ said: “When I first got there, I got my head down and got stuck into work.
“I knew a bit about some of the bigger names like Rhys, Gethin and Martyn, who had all played for Wales, but I knew what I was there to do and still had a point to prove.
“We weren’t washed up, we weren’t there just to collect our pay packets. We were there to make a difference.
“That’s critical. For myself, even in the game today when it comes to recruitment you want to ask players what drives them and how we’ll get the best out of them. Why do they want to leave their club to come play overseas?
“That’s a big thing for me. It’s about getting comfortable around the group and pushing the team forward.
“I enjoyed spending time with the younger guys. Boys like Ellis, Lloyd, Halfpenny, Warby, Scott Andrews. I felt like I made a real effort with the younger generation and I still talk to these guys a lot today.
“That’s a real important role that you can play when you’re an older figurehead coming into a club.
“You realise that, actually, these are young guys and you want to help them as much as you can.
“With a lot of the Welsh, it was too many weights and not enough bloody catch and pass!
“I can still remember one day in training with Josh Navidi. He’s a champion who’s gone on to have a great career and it’s awesome to see him play so well for Wales.
“But I remember one day where he was the strongest man in the gym with all these weights and I told him, ‘Oi, get out of the freaking gym! Go and catch the ball!’
“The old Welsh love a bit of the gym.”
The Cardiff Blues podcast, including recent episodes with Marc Stcherbina, Casey Laulala and Geraint Thomas is available NOW on all the major platforms!