“We’re four out of four going into a home game and if you had offered me that at the start of the season I would have bitten your hand off.” This was Danny Wilson’s quote after beating Zebre away, do I need to write much more to sum up the first month of the season?
It has been almost the dictionary definition of a dream start for the Cardiff Blues, a world of difference from 12 months ago where we were in the midst of a losing run that would see us have to wait until the beginning of December to record our second league win of the season, and the first against non-Italian opposition. So let’s look back at this September…
On The Pitch
From the very outset it seemed like we were witnessing the beginning of something special, with a 34-16 bonus point win over Edinburgh kicking the season off at the Arms Park. A slightly stuttering first half saw us leading 17-13, but a 17-3 second half was lead from the front by new signings Steve Shingler and Nick Williams, while youngster Tomos Williams impressed from his scrum-half starting spot.
To think that win was achieved with the majority of Cardiff’s internationals either sitting in the stands or in the bench is certainly a good omen for November during the Autumn internationals, and added to the confidence when those players were welcomed back for the following week’s trip to Munster.
With just one win in the last eight away at the Munstermen it’s fair to say that the West of Ireland had not been a happy hunting ground for Cardiff. Little did we know though that the attacking power of this Blues side was about to be unleashed. A brace from Tom James as well as the boot of Gareth Anscombe gave us a 10-17 half-time lead.
However, when Munster scored 10 unanswered second half points to take the lead it seemed destined for another defeat. Even when Dan Fish’s try was reeled in by Ian Keatley’s kick to reduce our lead to a single point with 10 minutes to go there was an inevitability of throwing the points away. The game was managed to a tee though and seen out to earn a valuable four points on the road.
Two from two setup a massive Friday night at the Arms Park with in-form Pro12 side Glasgow coming to town. Ticket sales almost doubled from the Edinburgh game to see over 8,000 fans pack CAP to create an atmosphere not experienced for a few years at the historic ground.
An up-and-down first half saw Cardiff snatch the lead with the last play of the game thanks to Rey Lee-Lo crossing after the crowd had convinced Gareth Anscombe not to kick the ball out a few minutes previously. What followed was an extremely tense second half where Steve Shingler’s nerves of steel held to kick a crucial penalty, before an immense defensive shift restricted Glasgow to just one try after the break, and secured a 23-19 win.
It may well have appeared that the tough games were over for the month as it came to a close away at Zebre, but when you’re Cardiff Blues there’s nothing down easily and even that is a very real banana skin of a fixture. Two losses in Parma over the past three years, including last year’s 26-15 embarrassment, meant many mental demons needed to be put aside.
In a scrappy game the team had to prove it’s psychological resilience yet again and did so by scraping a 21-23 win. Going behind early was tough on the side, as was a late Zebre comeback when fairly easy Cardiff chances were going begging. However, the mark of a great champion is their ability to win ugly as well as win easily. In other years we’d have lost that game, and that’s a bigger compliment than it sounds.
Danny Wilson has transformed the side in terms of style of play, alongside with his team of very able coaches, but also in the attitude and mental approach to games. The players look confident, but not cocky, and have certainly shown they are willing to fight and put their bodies on the line for the win.
There’s certainly a long way to go on the pitch, but the signs are all there that the future is bright. An exciting season is in store so make sure you’ve got your tickets and buckle up for the ride!
Off The Pitch
Firstly into the treatment room and a quick update. Kirby Myhill unfortunately picked up a shin injury early on in his debut vs Edinburgh, but is in line to return in the not too distant future. Dan Fish is also very close to return after the foot injury sustained scoring the winner against Munster. Alex Cuthbert is a bit further off a return to action though following a recurrence of his groin problem.
Then into Billy Millard’s General Manager office and some of the best news of the month, Tom James has signed a new long-term contract. Last season’s top scorer will be here for at least the next few years meaning we will see TJ right through the peak of his career. Three tries already this year, fingers crossed for plenty more to come.
Late contract news on the last day of the month also, Gethin Jenkins has added an additional year onto his contract, meaning he will stay to the end of the 2017/18 season. The club captain is in his testimonial year and has hopes of going on the Lions Tour next season, but in terms of Cardiff his experience and general level of play is still excellent at 35. Good news indeed!
Also crossing Millard’s desk I’m sure will have been arrangements for the WRU to take Attack Coach Matt Sherratt for the duration of the Autumn Internationals. A slightly left-field appointment, but we know from having watched the Cardiff attack so far this season just what good work Sherratt does. Well deserved honour and hopefully aides his coaching development to come back and improve Cardiff even more.
Final stop off the pitch comes in the board room and new stadium news. Speaking at a Cardiff Blues Supporter’s Club event, Chief Executive Richard Holland confirmed that negotiations were at an advanced stage with the Cardiff Athletic Club over gaining the 150 year lease with redevelopment rights for the club. CAC are expected to call an EGM before Christmas.
Then plans can be properly drawn up for the new stadium, and private investment sought, with the new ground to be at 90 degrees from the old ground, be a mixture of seating and terracing, have a capacity of around 15,000 and contain a shop, museum and new CAC clubhouse.
Assuming all the above goes smoothly it’s likely we would spend two seasons maximum away from the CAP site, from the 2018/19 season at the earliest, with the Millennium Stadium and SWALEC stadium being looked at as stop gaps. This is where WRU assistance is being requested, they will NOT be buying the club in any way, shape or form.
A long way to go in the new stadium story with many twists and turns ahead before any chance of the project gets off the ground, but it’s pleasing to know the club leadership are at least holding some ambition to improve club facilities.
Player of the Month
Last but not least, the PotM award for September. A few honourable mentions for Steve Shingler, Rey Lee-Lo, George Earle and Josh Navidi, but for me there is no question that Tom James has been almost unplayable the last few weeks. Three tries for the season already, as well as countless metres gained, he is looking in fine form.