So here we are again. It’s the end of the season, we have a new coach and a squad in desperate need of rebuilding and strengthening. After two attempts by Phil Davies to unsuccessfully replicate David Young’s success and then Mark Hammett’s failed complete overhaul attempt last summer, the summer of 2015 can only be seen as fourth time lucky.
It’s probably not an exaggeration to say last season was a disaster on every level. Summer signings of Super Rugby players Jarrad Hoeata and Gareth Anscombe, as well as experienced Wales and Lions prop Adam Jones gave a brief sense of excitement, as well as new coach Hammett’s comments of fast, attacking rugby there was a sense of anticipation around the new season. However, an unconvincing win over Zebre followed by four losses and a draw in the opening six Pro12 games put paid to that. Things picked up slightly as Challenge Cup and LV Cup campaigns started brightly and wins over London Irish and Grenoble, as well as the Scarlets in the league saw form pick up slightly, before rumours of discontent with Hammett began arising, both from the changing room and board room. Intense fitness sessions, attempts to disband senior groups of players and refusals to pick strong teams against first Newport at home on Boxing Day, and then against Leicester in the LV Cup to qualify for the next round saw Hammett edge closer to the door, and soon that door led to a plane back to New Zealand as Hammett resigned due to family reasons (ahem!).The season limped to a close under the care of Chief and Paul John before Bristol forwards coach, and former Cardiff RFC, Llanelli, Newport and Wales U20 coach, Danny Wilson was named the new Head Coach last week.
So is Wilson the right choice? Well he’s certainly served a successful coaching apprenticeship. After working with Welsh representative sides he moved into senior coaching with Cardiff RFC before moving to take the Head Coach role at London Welsh in 2008 as the Exiles turned professional. He came back to Wales in 2010 as assistant coach at Newport before heading further West again to Parc y Scarlets in 2012 where he is credited with transforming their set piece game, praise coming from Blues captain of last season Matthew Rees, and current Wales tight-head Samson Lee. Also during this time Wilson accrued many plaudits for his work as Wales U20 Head Coach, taking the young Welshmen to the final of the 2013 World Junior Rugby Championship. After two years at the Scarlets he moved across the border to take up the role of forwards coach at Bristol, but after their failure to secure Aviva Premiership rugby he managed to negotiate early release from his Bristol contract and now takes up the role of Head Coach, rather than Director of Rugby, at the BT Sport Cardiff Arms Park.
So Wilson is certainly well qualified for the job, and the new job title of Head Coach, rather than Director of Rugby, will suit him as he can concentrate on the training ground, leaving off field issues to Billy Millard. However, his first day in the job has to be spent sorting his backroom staff, and most importantly who will be tasked with sorting out our frankly woeful defence. Dale McIntosh is more than likely to leave the coaching staff, thankfully, creating an opening and the new man must be able to install a proper structure to the defensive line, as well as a willingness and desire to tackle and defend properly, not some of the half-arsed effort we saw last year. With Paul John set to stay on as attack coach, it remains to be seen whether Wilson will appoint anyone else to his coaching team, but a skills coach or something similar certainly wouldn’t go amiss.
After putting together a backroom team the focus must turn to the playing squad, and over the coming weeks, The Blues Life will be putting together an in depth look at each position, where we are strong, where we can improve and where we can look to offload. However, a short preview to those blogs is that we certainly need to strengthen in a number of key positions if we are to achieve Wilson’s goal of qualifying for the Champions Cup again. Whilst it is agreed that must be the main aim over the next season or two, some free-flowing, attacking rugby would definitely be appreciated by the CAP faithful, and hopefully Wilson can go about sorting out the forwards to provide a platform for the backs to perform.
Of all the changes over the last few years, this seems, and hopefully this is backed up, to be the most sensible yet exciting. Whilst we as Cardiff fans must be careful not to place too much expectation on the shoulders of Danny Wilson straight away, there is certainly a sense among Blues supporters that this could be a really interesting time for the club. Good luck Danny!