The 2017/18 season will be one of great intrigue for Cardiff Blues, both on and off the field. In some respects it could even be regarded as a make or break year for a lot of people, none less than Danny Wilson.
When the current head coach arrived from Bristol in the summer of 2015 there was a lot talk surrounding a ‘three year plan’, including from the man himself, “I have been given a three year commitment by the board and I think that in itself gives you some time to build.
It gives you time to assess the situation, make the relevant changes and then grow. These things don’t happen overnight in any business. We have got to make sure we make the right decisions. Whoever is in this job needs time to make the relevant changes and decisions and three years gives you that.”
And make the changes he certainly has, as the former Wales U20s boss has released 28 first team players in two seasons, bringing in 12 of his own choosing as a concerted effort was made to slim the senior squad down. An approach that would ultimately lead to an increased quality depth within the squad.
Coming into the new season Wilson has a squad which he can say is truly is, and now needs to translate these setup changes into results on the pitch. Next May will be the first major performance review, with little to show for on-field improvement thus far.
Two seventh place finishes and one heavy European quarter-final defeat haven’t exactly gone down as successful seasons, despite encouraging the encouraging runs of five wins in six games to finish the first season under Danny, and four straight wins that kicked off 2016/17.
The Pro12 will be the major indicator of progress, with the signals from the club again indicating a top six finish is the aim for 2017/18, and subsequent qualification for the Champions Cup being crucial.
Performance in Europe is important for Cardiff Blues fans, with a great pride being attached to previous continental triumphs, but with a tough Challenge Cup group on the table there will be few realistically demanding a visit to Bilbao next May. Eyes will be firmly focused on league position and a return to European rugby’s top table.
How will we get there? The appointment of a quality defensive coach will be a big part of the puzzle, as the Blues suffered one of the worst seasons defensively in many years in the recent campaign, as will avoiding the catastrophic injury problems that were faced during the middle of the season.
Securing bonus points will also be a major factor, as missed opportunities to add the extras against Edinburgh, Treviso, Zebre twice and Dragons twice meant missing out on challenging Glasgow for sixth place, who only finished five points ahead of Cardiff.
There is a positivity simmering at the Arms Park, with the squad looking strong and a new stadium tentatively appearing on the horizon, but there’s always the threat that the hope will kill us.
League position targets and European knockout qualifications aside, what will really make Danny Wilson’s three year plan a success is if he can keep that hope alive, and return some optimism to the deserving Cardiff Blues fans with their undying support.