Alex Cuthbert is a player that often divides opinion. He burst onto the scene in 2011, turning many heads by scoring two tries as Cardiff Blues overcame Racing 92 in the Heineken Cup pool stages, securing the Blues a spot in the quarter finals. The same year, arguably Wales’ biggest star of the professional era, Shane Williams, retired from National duties on 3rd December that year in his final touch of the game. Wales had lost 24-18, but the feeling inside the stadium was electric- you would’ve thought Wales had won the game by the reaction. That’s a testament to the impact he made on and off the field, a real fan favourite.
This opened up a wing berth in the Welsh team. In that same Australia game, Cuthbert came on to replace George North and seemingly did enough as he was awarded Shane Williams vacant slot for the opening game of the Six Nations, lining up with North on the other side. In his first Championship with Wales, he scored three tries in five starting appearances, one of which was the only try of the game as they overcame France 16-9 to win the grand slam.
Easily being pencilled into Wales’ starting line up, there were no surprises when Warren Gatland called Cuthbert up to the 2013 Lions team that famously won in Australia, the first Lions series victory since 1997 tour of South Africa. He played one of the tests against Australia and marked the occasion with a try. However, since 2013, he has been far less prolific in a Welsh shirt and many began to ask questions over what they saw as Gatland’s blind faith in the winger.
Eventually the inevitable happened when Cuthbert lost his wing berth, Cardiff Blues team mate Tom James taking his spot in Wales’ opening Six Nations game of 2016 against Ireland. James himself had been kept out of a Welsh jersey since 2010 and would have relished the chance to wrestle the shirt back. Although many think he did little wrong, James was dropped following the Scotland game and Cuthbert returned for the victory against France.
The next big blow for Cuthbert has come in the form of knee surgery, which will see him out of action for the remainder of the season with the Blues and unlikely to make Wales’ tour of New Zealand this summer. There is little reason for Welsh fans to panic, as Newport Gwent Dragons winger, Hallam Amos has been absolutely flying for his region, scoring four tries in two games. Having been given very little chance during the Six Nations, the summer tour could be his chance to announce himself on the international scene and lay claim to a starting wing berth.
This all looks very ominous for Cuthbert, but it could also be a huge opportunity for the Gloucester born winger. If Amos proves his worth, then Cuthbert will have some serious competition for the shirt, which you would think will help to drive him forwards a professional athlete. On the other hand, if Amos doesn’t step up to the mark, it will give Cuthbert the opportunity to come back and show Welsh fans what they have been missing.
One of the key factors in the fall of Cuthbert has often been cited as a lack of confidence. With such a long lay-off on the cards this will give him time out, to relax, refocus and on his return, to rediscover some of his previous form which led to his call up in the first place. Indeed, Cardiff Blues look to have turned the page on what has been a bumpy couple of years. It’s early days but they played some beautiful running rugby as they saw off Welsh rivals the Scarlets in the Guinness Pro 12. With a faster approach to their rugby, this could well suit Cuthbert. Despite being a large winger, he is still very agile and has a great turn of pace. If Cardiff use him well and get him into space out wide, then you can hope to see Cuthbert back to his best over the next season or so. At least that is what I’m hoping for, it would be great to see some real competition on the wings of the Welsh side.
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The Scribbler, 11th April, 2016