50 days and counting

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Here we are then, with 50 days until the we expect the new season to get underway on Friday 1st September, and what do we know?

Well, with the non-summer touring Cardiff Blues heading back into pre-season training on Monday the players will at least know where they are. Us fans however are left with a list of questions as long as our arms.

The Club

Starting with in-house matters, and it has been a quiet off-season in terms of news coming from within the Cardiff Blues camp.

Do we know which players are contracted?

In a word, no. If you look down the Cardiff squad for next season released by Cardiff Rugby Life last week you will find there has been no official confirmation from the Blues that the likes of Matthew Rees, Fa’ao Filise and Anton Peikrishvili have signed on for 2017/18.

As well as that, Scott Andrews and Lewis Jones haven’t had new contracts announced since 2013, and with contract lengths not officially revealed when players sign or re-sign, it is unclear when the likes of Brad Thyer and James Down have deals until.

NGD Matthew Rees
There’s been nothing from the club regarding Matthew Rees’ new contract

Has there been official confirmation of the departures?

Again, it’s a solid no. The five senior players who have left the club were announced at the Cardiff Blues shareholders AGM, and presentations were made to those who have moved on at the End of Season Awards.

However, there was nothing on the club website or via official channels to the wider fan base, with only some of the players choosing to post goodbye messages on social media.

Looking around the rest of the league you can see the likes of Edinburgh and Ulster, amongst others, officially confirming their 2017/18 playing squads, meanwhile there has been radio silence from the Cardiff Blues since last season finished.

Is the academy setup confirmed next season?

Another no to add to the list. Despite last year’s young players being announced on the 25th May for the season just gone, there has been nothing in regards to next season’s academy setup with no players or an expected new ‘head of development’ announced.

This may not be a gripe for many fans who focus on the first team only, but for those of us invested in the club as a whole it is interesting to know who the future are, even more so after such superb Cardiff representation in Wales’ U20 side this summer.

Shane Lewis Hughes Wales U20
Shane Lewis-Hughes was one of those who impressed at the Junior World Championship

Who will be coaching the players when pre-season starts?

That’s another question that can’t be fully answered at this point. All we know for certain currently is that Danny Wilson is the head coach and Matt Sherratt is the backs/attack coach, and we don’t even know what Wilson’s full remit is now Billy Millard has left.

There are gaps to fill though, with defence coach Graham Steadman and skills coach Paul John both departing at the end of last season. It is believed Nicky Robinson will take over the skills/kicking remit from John, but as yet there is nothing on who will attempt to transform our defensive fortunes from September.

Danny Wilson Munster
Danny Wilson’s coaching staff is far from ready as far as we know

At this point it should be pointed out that there have been a lot of behind closed doors dealings that are likely to have impacted upon academy, playing and coaching structure during the off-season, with the well documented ‘WRU takeover’ being mooted before being totally withdrawn and a following fall-out from that.

However, with 50 days until the new season and less than a week until the squad returns for pre-season, it is fair to assume many of the details have been ironed out and it’s time to start bringing the fans into the loop, show us a bit of respect.

The League

Now onto the big fish, and the ongoing soap opera that is life in the Pro12, or whatever it’s called these days…

Who are the participants in next season’s competition?

Good question! For certain we know the 10 teams of Wales, Ireland and Scotland will be there. Then things get complicated.

Question marks remain over the Italian representation in 2017/18, with Zebre going into administration and being taken in-house by the FIR, Italy’s governing body, while Treviso put a halt on season ticket sales last week as they struggle to cope with the uncertainty over finances and league format.

Although the Italians have a contract to provide two teams to the competition until 2020, there is a reported break clause in that deal which could see Zebre and Treviso left off next season’s league entrants.

What is clearer is that two new South African sides, namely the Southern Kings and Free State Cheetahs, will be added to the league in the very near future after their departure from the Southern Hemisphere’s Super Rugby competition, bringing with them a heft addition to the TV money pot.

Kings Cheetahs
South Africa’s Kings and Cheetahs are expected to be in the Pro12 next season

What will the league structure be?

This all depends on the amount of entrants. Assuming the South Africans are added on top of the existing 12 teams then it is anticipated the ‘Pro14’ will be made up of two conferences, whereby a team would play the six teams in it’s conference home and away, the teams in the other conference once and have an additional derby game.

The league would then have a 20-game season, down from it’s current 22, but with less games in international windows. This would be the only option in a Pro14 as there are not enough free weekends in the season to host a regular league structure with the extra sides due to Welsh teams participating in the Anglo-Welsh Cup.

Largely negative feedback to this proposed conference structure is thought to be behind the doubt surrounding the Italian participation next season, with the suits looking at a Pro12 with the South African teams and retaining a normal home and away setup.

As of yet, with complete silence from those in charge of running the league, there can only be speculation. Further disrespect to fans, this time from the organisers of the Pro12/14.

Where are the fixtures?

With the entrants and structure not confirmed there is no chance of knowing what the fixtures will be for the 2017/18 season, nor do we know when they may be announced, although according to some they can be expected in the next week.

It was exactly a year ago today that the 2016/17 fixtures were released, so in comparison there is no real change causing some fans to claim those complaining about having no fixtures are moaning for the sake of moaning.

There’s a bigger picture to this though. Firstly, there’s not even been an announcement of when we can expect the fixtures at this stage, keeping fans completely in the dark.

Then, when looking around the rest of Europe, we find that the Top14, ProD2, Aviva Premiership, Greene King Championship and Welsh domestic leagues all have had their fixtures announced for next season.

Once again the Pro12 is the Northern Hemisphere’s poor relation, not only being without a fixture list, but not knowing who is in the league and how it will even be setup.

Pro12 Logo
Could be the last time we see this logo

The Cardiff Blues fans feeling of being disregarded is perfectly understandable, when we don’t even know what sort of value for money we’re getting with season tickets for 2017/18.

It’s time those in charge at the Arms Park, and those in the Pro12 offices, treated us with a bit more respect, and matched up to the other big clubs and leagues in rugby and world sport by bringing their fan interaction into the 21st Century.


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