After leading USA to an unbeaten summer, Blaine Scully has returned to Cardiff Blues determined to continue riding the high of 2018.
The wing famously scored the crucial try in the Blues’ Challenge Cup final triumph over Gloucester in May and then crossed the pond to lead the Eagles to victories over Russia (62-13), Scotland (30-29) and Canada (42-17).
That stretched the Eagles’ winning streak to a record eight, with the triumph over Scotland their first over a tier one nation.
He said: “It was a great summer. We started against Russia, which is always a really competitive game.
“They’re tough, big men, who are really physical but establishing our own physicality is one of our foundational pieces and it set the tone for the rest of the summer.
“It was an objective of ours to go out a play and perform really well and we definitely did in the second-half.
“We were then able to back that up against Scotland in a really tight and tough contest in Houston.
“It was an awesome all-round team performance. Every person on the field contributed to that and credit goes to every single person within the organisation because that was a whole program effort. It was something that American rugby could share in and really enjoy.
“We then finished on a high note in Canada with a tough performance. I’m really proud of the team and our effort, how we’ve been grown and improved as a group.”
Scully’s men were 21-6 behind at one stage against Scotland but fought back heroically to lead.
The Scots could have snatched the spoils at the death but thankfully Blair Kinghorn sent an injury-time conversion wide as history was made.
He continued: “As a group and to a man we fundamentally gave everything we had, which gave us half a chance against a really good team.
“We feel we can compete with anybody. I don’t believe the tier one versus tier two thing, it’s just two rugby teams going out and competing. We trying to be as professional and good as we can be.
“We were in a unique situation, in that every single player was in a full-time training situation for the first time ever thanks to the MLR and our overseas professionals. We were in a good place physically and mentally to go out and do something special.
“We went in at half-time with a deficit but scored just before the break, which set us up. We were calm in the changing room and just identified the areas we needed to fix and we were able to do that.”
Now, back in Cardiff, Scully is recovering following routine ankle surgery but he is already enthused by the environment at the Vale training ground and eager to get back on the pitch.
With a new coaching group in place, the focus has been upon building on last season’s success as Wales’ Capital Region return to the Heineken Champions Cup.
As the old adage goes, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ and Scully believes with small improvements across the board, the Blues can kick on.
He said: “It’s great to be back. I’m really excited about what’s ahead, I missed the guys, it’s a great group complimented by an exciting new coaching team.
“We’re very grateful and thankful to the coaches from last year, who have gone on and now it’s our challenge to kick on.
“We’re a very connected group, who have been through a lot together and from a playing side there’s not been a whole lot of change.
“There have been a few new signings, which are really exciting and as a collective we’re confident about our ability not only from a training and performance point of view but also to do some good stuff.
“It’s not only something we want to do for ourselves but our fans as well, we want to make them proud.”
One of the signings to which, Scully refers is his international teammate Samu Manoa, who makes the move from Toulon.
Manoa has a reputation as one of the most devastating ball carriers in the game, with the ability to play both number eight and in the second-row.
During his time at Northampton Saints he won the Player, Players’ Player and Fans’ Player of the Year as well as picking up the Premiership Rugby gong, and Scully believes he is a world class addition.
He added: “I’ve been fortunate enough to play with Samu for a long time and against Samu when we were both in the Premiership.
“He’s awesome, he’s a world-class player and can do some special things. He’s a big, powerful athlete, he carries really well and he can hit some people in defence. He’s also a great guy, he’s a family man with five kids and a wife.
“It will be really cool and I’m really looking forward to him joining us. It’s a great addition to the squad.”