It’s the stuff of nightmares. To lose 46-24 in any match is pretty unforgivable. But to do it away at one of your biggest rivals after building up hope that this season was different, that the team was playing really good rugby and they might challenge for the play-offs, is about as bad as it gets. Welcome to the life of a Cardiff Blues fan.
We have now seen 11 straight Pro12 defeats against our M4 rivals Ospreys, and quite frankly at no point in those matches have we even seemed close to getting one over on the Swansea-based team. In reality there’s no shame to losing to one of the strongest teams in the league, and definitely the strongest Welsh side over the last six years.
However, what is the truth is that rolling over without a fight is pretty embarrassing. Now, as I repeat quite often before matches, I will always understand losing if the players put 100% effort in and things don’t quite go our way. The loss against Leinster last week was a prime example of that.
What I cannot accept is players seemingly not willing to fight for the jersey. Against Ospreys on Friday night was exactly that; individuals going through the motions, senior players not putting on any shows of leadership and certain members of the team almost literally going missing.
Now, I’m not going to name any names, and I’m not going to dwell on this point too much for now as I’m sure the players themselves are well aware of their shortcomings from the game and have been told in no uncertain terms by the coaches, and I’d hope they could see it for themselves.
I say I’m not dwelling on it ‘for now’ as this week is hopefully a one-off. It’s been a good few months since the last time I felt the players seemed totally uninterested in doing the Cambridge blue jersey a service, probably the first half away at Glasgow in March, and there will always be blips on the way to success.
What must happen now is for the players to react in the right way. In some respects that poor performance has come at the right time. The Pro12 is put on the back burner for a few weeks as the European season kicks off, the slate is wiped clean and form must be gained all over again.
A trip to Bristol awaits, who are winless on their return to the Aviva Premiership this season, and the team must be able to clear their minds from last week’s loss and put everything into beating the West Country side. It’s a derby with a difference, no real form to go on, a cross-league encounter against an unfamiliar foe. Nothing but the players in front of them for our Cardiff boys to contend with.
“Bouncebackability (noun) – (especially in sport) the capacity to recover quickly from a setback.” This has to be the theme of the week at the Vale Hotel training ground, a test of mental strength and commitment to the shirt and the fans that the players must face up to.
I have faith in this squad, and in the management, that they will recover from this. There’s too many quality players for them not too. The key is not to over-analyse. We played brilliantly in going four wins from four at the start of the season by playing simple, confidence-building rugby, and we will get back to that.
Panic stations aren’t to be manned yet, and there’s no requirement to revert to pessimism mode for the Arms Park faithful, but now is the time for the players to prove how much they want this season to match the success of September. Now is the time to stand up, be counted, and put Cardiff back at the top table of European Rugby again.