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Welsh rugby’s new overseas signing fills a gap that has forever been Cardiff’s problem

The wheels were likely already in motion to bring Lopeti Timani to the Arms Park by the time Cardiff and the Scarlets went at it on consecutive weekends recently.

So the reminder of just what quality non-Welsh qualified talent can provide our professional teams – in the form of Sam Lousi and Sione Kalamafoni for the west Walians – acted more as confirmation that they needed to see through their own deal, rather than an outright reminder to start looking in the market for a Tongan capable of doing a job.

Because the fact of the matter is that it’s been an area that has needed improving in the capital ever since a deal for Franco van der Merwe broke down five years ago. If it’s been said once, it’s been said a hundred times that quality overseas signings are a vital component of Welsh sides being successful.

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Ignoring the nonsensical argument they take the place of good, honest young Welsh lads, as if the influence is akin to football’s Premier League, every successful side has boasted its fair share of imports. Without them, it only furthers the narrative that the four regions are only there to serve Team Wales.

Releasing South African lock van der Merwe before the former Ulster second-row had even played a game saw Cardiff creating a gap they have failed to fill since.

Add in the retirement of Nick Williams in 2020, the pack has been lacking consistent muscle for some time. There’s some Welsh talent aplenty in theirs, but they don’t give out rosettes for most homegrown players.

Quite simply, Cardiff have longed for a quality import in their pack for far too long. In Timani, they might just have got one.

The 31-year-old will join Toulon for next season. The former Wallaby forward, who has switched international allegiances to Tonga, has tended to play more in the back-row than the second-row this season.

It’s been a similar story at La Rochelle and the Melbourne Rebels. Not since the 2015/16 season has Timani played more games in the lock position than the back-row.

In that sense, he’s a little like the Scarlets’ new Tongan-born addition Vaea Fifita. Just like former All Black Fifita, who might soon be a Test team-mate of Timani, he could arguably be a better blindside flanker than second-row.

But Cardiff need a lock more than they need a back-row, where their options are currently stocked with a host of Welsh internationals. Regardless, both are quality additions to Welsh rugby.

I won’t fix everything at the Arms Park. The lineout might not be something that he’ll add all that much to.

As Cardiff rugby blogger Dan Pearce noted on a Twitter thread, Timani isn’t going to be your first-choice jumper. He’s jumped just three times for Toulon this season.

That means Cardiff will have to sort the lineout issues in other ways. In fairness, it’s hard to tell whether it’s coaching or personnel issues that are causing their problems with retaining possession on their own throw.

Regardless, it’s impacting on other parts of their game. Director of rugby Dai Young admitted as much recently.

“It’s a bit of both with the defense – individual and systematic,” he said a couple of weeks ago. The lineout hasn’t helped the defence.

“Against the Scarlets, we went about 15 or 20 minutes without touching the ball. When we got opportunities, we lost lineouts and gave them back the ball.

“The reality is the lineout has contributed. Our attack has hindered our defense because when we’ve had opportunities with the ball, we’ve not look good and given them the ball back.

“You keep on giving teams the ball and it’ll put pressure on our defense.”

It’s in those two traditional areas – attack and defense away from the set-piece – where Timani should offer plenty of value to Cardiff. In possession, his giant frame will offer both a willing ball-carrier and clear-out specialist.

On the other side of the ball, few in the squad will be able to hit quite as hard as him. To boot, he’s decent over the ball in the jackal – something Cardiff don’t necessarily need with their back-row riches, but it’s a handy skill nonetheless.

Crucially, at the age he is, he offers an experience to a Cardiff pack that all too often looks a little green and naive. Whereas most of them haven’t experienced rugby beyond a Blue and Black jersey, Timani has played on different continents and in different codes.

Young has known the box that needed ticking on his shopping list more than any other. He’ll be hoping that, in Timani, he’s done just that.

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