Let’s start with a frank and honest statement. Five defeats in six Pro12 games is just not acceptable. Add into that equation two heavy losses against local rivals and in the world of professional sport that all equals unhappy fans, players lacking confidence and a whole lot of pressure on the person in charge.
That is the current situation Cardiff Blues find themselves in as a run dating back to the beginning of October has encompassed aggregate 33-point defeats to Scarlets and Ospreys, a narrow win away to lowly Treviso and error strewn losses to Connacht and Ulster.
European victories against sub-standard Bristol and Pau sides did little to paper over the cracks and now we are facing a five-point gap to the top six and Champions Cup qualification, as well as being a further five points off the play-off spots.
The players have certainly played like a team almost completely lacking in confidence as two defeats in a week to the Irish sides have been littered with mistakes. A combined 40 turnovers means we’ve lost possession once every two minutes across both games. With a double header against Aviva Premiership high-flyers Bath coming up there’s no sign of that rut being climbed out of just yet.
What of head coach Danny Wilson then? Well he must be feeling the pressure as ultimately responsible for the results, with some murmurings of discontent coming from some fans for the first time and plenty of people outside the club trying to destabilise Cardiff with suggestions of the sack approaching.
For me though, Danny couldn’t be further away from unemployment if he tried, and there’s plenty of good reasons why…
Firstly let’s rewind 12 months and after 10 games last season Cardiff were on 18 points with 3 wins and 7 losses, but fast forward a year we now have 22 points with 5 wins, including victories at home to Glasgow and away in Munster. With games against both Italian sides at the Arms Park still to come we’re looking far healthier this season.
Sticking with last year and let’s not forget how quickly fortunes can change. From that position of 18 points, where we’d been on a run of seven straight losses, in early December, to being in with a shot of the top six by April after runs of three wins in four matches and five in six.
So no need to panic results wise yet, but let’s say we go through into the end of January and there’s no upturn in form. For argument’s sake we could even arrive in May still outside the top six, would I be calling for Wilson’s head? No.
The former Bristol forwards coach hasn’t been in the job 18 months yet, and by the end of the season he will be two-thirds of the way through the three year plan he spoke about when appointed to the job at the beginning of last season.
I don’t think it can be overestimated how much of a mess, playing-wise, the club was in as Danny Wilson took over the summer of 2015. Cardiff were the worst of the Welsh clubs having finished closer on points to the Italian sides than the top six. We won five games all season and played some of the worst rugby seen at the Arms Park. Three coaching teams had been used in three years and crowds voted with their feet.
Wilson has let 20 players go in a little over a year, to underline what sort of quality he had at his disposal. The vast majority have moved on to the semi-professional Welsh Premiership or the generally accepted weakest and least funded professional side, Newport Gwent Dragons. I’d estimate there is another five or six that will also be shown the door in May. Crucially this includes a number of non-Welsh qualified players.
With those players being restricted by the Welsh Rugby Union their use is critical and can serve to drastically increase the quality in the side. That’s not to say the basis of a good squad isn’t in place, but look at Willis Halaholo’s performances in a blue shirt over the last few weeks and decide what top draw foreign players can bring to any team.
So overall I guess the message is one of patience. Recall how well the team played in September to go on a run of four straight wins, but don’t make Wilson and the players victims of their own success. Every side has a drop in form, but this is nothing that cannot be fixed. There are no fundamental issues here, just a developing three year plan.