Normally I don’t like to just turn out pieces re-hashing quotes from interviews or press conferences but there was something Danny Wilson said during his pre-match media that struck me is interesting today, but that may slip under the radar.
As we return to Pro12 action following a few weeks off for the Anglo-Welsh Cup the head coach talked about how, “it’s the start of ‘block two’ for us now that includes games against Connacht, Ulster, Bath twice, Dragons and Scarlets over Christmas. It’s a huge block.”
Of course you may be thinking ‘obviously it’s an important series of fixtures, just look at the opposition’, but it runs deeper than that. The festive period is a tone setter for the season. That may seem odd considering we’re already three months into the season, but you just need to take a look at two contrasting form guides during last Christmas and it is there in black and white.
Llanelli were flying high this time 12 months ago, six straight wins to start the season and flying high in the Pro12. However, from this point onwards they struggled past both Italian sides before four straight losses saw the wheels come off their season and they ended up out of the play-off places despite being the early season pace setters.
On the flip side, Cardiff this time last season were in the midst of a seven match losing streak and seemingly resigned to a bottom three finish. But just one loss during the festive period, that being a one-point defeat away at Montpellier, propelled us to a largely respectable seventh place come May, just seven points behind Llanelli despite the difference in the sides back in early November.
Examples that early season form counts for nothing, and what matters in a race is how you start it, not how you end it. Block two of Pro12 and European games can be season makers or breakers but that this block of games is a tone setter for the season is not the only reason it is so important.
The festive period comes right in the middle of transfer silly season. It’s around this time players like to get next season’s contract sorted to give themselves security, clubs start to finalise rosters and players on the move eye potential suitors on the basis of their current league position and form.
As such it is important Cardiff really kick on form-wise to give themselves the opportunity to be in a position to challenge for at least the top six and qualify for the European Champions Cup. That has to be the ultimate season aim, above competing in the Challenge Cup or domestic knockout tournaments.
Re-gaining a seat at the top table of European rugby brings in money and, more importantly, it makes the club far more attractive to potential signings. That is particularly critical this transfer season as Danny Wilson’s three year plan reaches it’s climax come the end of next year.
The squad is very close to being seriously competitive, just two or three quality signings away from being able to regularly challenge for honours again. As we all know though, money is tight and the bottom half of the Pro12 coupled with the Challenge Cup is not an attractive proposition for any top players looking for a new club.
So it’s a huge few weeks coming up, but after a confidence boosting win against Treviso last time out in the Pro12 there’s a sense of optimism in the team. Last season it was the festive period that turned the campaign around, this year I hope it’s the one that can kick us on.
Not just kick us on for 2016/17, but this could well be a tone setter for the next few years. The pressure’s on, time to see what this group of players are made of, after an encouraging start fell away quickly over the last few games. Come on Cardiff!!!