Cuthbert eyes repeat success
January 25, 2013
Alex Cuthbert celebrates Wales' Grand Slam triumph last year © Getty Images
In some of those old war films from the 1950s and early 1960s, there were inevitably scenes where the various generals crowded round a small wooden table with a telephone placed in the middle, each of them waiting, sweating on the phone to ring with news from the front. There was usually a period of silence and then suddenly and dramatically, it rings.
You can imagine the scene is similar in some areas of Wales at the moment.
Those with a more vivid imagination can picture the various rugby honchos nervously waiting in Cardiff, Newport, Swansea or Llanelli for the phone to ring with a nameless voice greeting them, probably with more of a French accent than the officer's public-school tones of yesteryear, with the communiqué that their latest star player has agreed to a cross-Channel sojourn.
But one player who has ignored the bounty on offer in France is Cardiff Blues' star winger Alex Cuthbert. While Toulon are assembling a squad resembling a paint-by-numbers template, Racing Metro are also ensuring that most of the world's top talents with Leinster's Jonathan Sexton set to become the latest to switch - and if the Parisians had had it their way, then he would playing alongside Cuthbert next season.
Instead of that, he re-signed with the Blues and amid all the gloom surrounding rumours regarding Dan Lydiate's domestic future and Jamie Roberts' choice to move to the Top 14, Cuthbert's decision shines like a beacon for all those who still retain hope in the under-fire Welsh regional system. Three of the regions managed a paltry three wins between them during the group stages of the Heineken Cup and the other failed to qualify for the Amlin Challenge Cup quarter-finals. But Cuthbert insists the future is bright at the Blues and their recent wins over Munster, in the PRO12, and Sale on the European stage suggest that the tide is turning at the Arms Park, a view he subscribes to.
"For my future career with Wales and my development, it was good to stay close to the Wales environment," Cuthbert told ESPN. "I enjoy Cardiff as well. And with Phil coming in this year, I've enjoyed working with him and his plans for the next couple of years. The team we've got, its' average age is around 24, so it is only going to get better really.
"There are six or seven young boys in the team who are under 20 and they are coming through - people like Rhys [Patchell] and Owen [Williams]. The experiences they are getting each year mean that we will be one of the teams hopefully pushing for the Heineken Cup and also a top four spot in the Rabo. It is going to take time to adjust after the number we lost year and a fair few of the boys from the academy have stepped up.
"But it is starting to come together - we beat Munster and we gave Toulon a good game over there at their place. Not many teams can emerge from there with a try bonus point to their name."
You could forgive Cuthbert for sometimes having to stop and take stock of his rapid ascent in world rugby. At the start of last season he was yet to play for the Blues but a run of five tries in nine games put enough pressure on coach Warren Gatland to give him the nod, aged just 21, from the bench against Australia. Shane Williams' retirement left a sizeable gap in Wales' arsenal and Cuthbert went on to start all five of the matches in their historic Grand Slam-winning 2012 Six Nations campaign. It was a remarkable experience for him but he is quick to emphasise that despite being one of Wales' newly anointed favourite sons; the fame has not changed him as an individual.
"I don't really think about it really. My friends and parents keep me grounded - I'm a pretty level-headed guy really, whatever happens, happens. Last year was an amazing season for me and I doubt I'll have another like it.
"Before my first cap, I spoke to Shane [Williams] quite a bit and he gave me some advice and some confidence. People like Martyn Williams have also helped, I'm good mates with him and he keeps me level-headed. I'm a guy who just gets on with it and I'm just concentrating on getting better."
But it could all have been very different for Cuthbert, who was born in Gloucester. He turned out for Gloucester City Under-18s and also attracted interest from other local football sides Cheltenham and Forest Green. He was also a keen show-jumper. But he made rugby his priority. He swapped Gloucester for Cardiff University and he soon caught the eye of the Wales Sevens scouts. A trip to the Commonwealth Games in Delhi followed and 13 months later, he was making his debut for Wales. And while he could have pulled on the red rose shirt of England, he is adamant that the thought "never really came in to the process".
Alex Cuthbert crashes over for another try for Cardiff Blues © PA Photos
And it is Wales who he will be turning out for, if picked, against Ireland on February 2. The mood around the camp is a far cry from March 17 last year when they scooped the Grand Slam. Since then they are on a seven-game losing run which included defeats to Argentina and Samoa at their Cardiff base. But despite their recent drop in form, they will go into the tournament as holders of the northern hemisphere gong but with a new coach at the helm.
While Warren Gatland starts to assemble his British & Irish Lions squad for the summer, Rob Howley will be charged with turning the tide of Wales' fortunes. It has been a turbulent few months in Wales' backroom staff with Gatland missing their tour to Australia due to injury and then coaching two of their four matches in the autumn series, but with Howley now confirmed for the duration of the Six Nations, Cuthbert hopes the stability will transfer into form on the pitch.
"Warren wasn't in Australia and was in and out during the autumn so it is nice to have that solidarity with Rob in charge for the whole of the Six Nations with his ideas. It is starting to get exciting and the Six Nations is one of the top competitions in the world and hopefully we can re-gain our Grand Slam."
And the Welsh public will be hoping that Cuthbert's optimism is realised. It is a tournament packed with the potential for upsets and while each supporter can argue their team's case until they are blue in the face, all the talk will come to an end when the first ball of the Six Nations is kicked. And no one is keener for the Ireland game to come around than Cuthbert.
"We need to win that game so that the talk of the seven games on the bounce will be over. If we get the win then everyone will talk about us losing those seven games and instead, maybe, about us winning the Grand Slam."
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.