There is no beating around the bush, the next three years are make or break for Cardiff Blues due to all manner of reasons. The survival of the club will come down to political battles, marketing strategy, stadium building and cost cutting measures, with all as important as the other.
While most of that will be played out in board rooms by people in suits over the coming weeks, months and years, there are still some areas of our destiny that remain in the hands of the management, one of which is how much running the rugby club costs.
Cardiff Blues yesterday confirmed that Clive Jones will come on board as ‘Director of Development’, after several successful years as Director of Rugby at Coleg y Cymoedd and Pontypridd RFC before that, as well as assisting with the Rhondda Schools Rugby programme alongside brother Chris.
This in no way is an admittance that the current development pathway in the region is not working. In fact to suggest that the appointment of someone who has been so integral to major parts of the pathway to a role that is supposedly created as a response to it failing smacks of more than a hint of hypocrisy.
The pathway itself has been extremely successful. Just take the stats since Danny Wilson took over as head coach in the summer of 2015. There has been 11 development pathway produced players make their Pro12 and/or European debut in that time, with 10 of those still at the club and seven of which could well be classed as first-team regulars.
If you’re looking for a reason as to why Cardiff have taken this step to appoint a Director of Development, it is not so subtly hidden within the second paragraph of the article on the official website. That may as well read ‘WE’VE GOT NO MONEY’.
Over the next three years the big hope is that the Cardiff Arms Park will be knocked down, along with the Holiday Inn, spun 90 degrees and an all new multi-use arena be built as primarily a rugby stadium, but one that can double up as an indoor concert and convention centre.
Until such a time as that does happen, or the idea goes up in smoke, there will have to be strict cutbacks in spending. The annual accounts don’t make pretty reading, Peter Thomas’ pockets are not unlimited in size, the WRU still don’t pay market value for the services provided by the regions, and money just does not grow on trees.
With that in mind, what is the best, and cheapest, way to secure good quality players and try to improve the depth of the squad needed to be competitive on league and European fronts? Produce the players yourself.
This is where Clive Jones comes in, with a specific remit to look after the players in the 18-22 age range as they transition from college rugby to the Cardiff Blues first team via the Welsh Premiership, British and Irish Cup and Anglo-Welsh Cup.
His track record is second-to-none with 34 age grade internationals coming through Coleg y Cymoedd in it’s six years of WRU academy status. a quite remarkable statistic. People from around the game in Wales praise his ability to spot potential and develop talent.
With our current crop of academy players containing exciting prospects such as Rhys Carre, Kieron Assiratti, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Dane Blacker and Ben Jones, all of whom represented Wales U20s this summer in the Junior World Championship, Clive Jones is required to ensure they become the golden generation, rather than the generation that should’ve been.
It is true that he hasn’t been tested in a role similar to this, nor in a professional team environment like Cardiff Blues and the Pro12, but if Jones’ previous successes are anything to go by then it is a shrewd move to bring his experience on board for what you’d imagine is a lower price than a Southern Hemisphere coach with a similar record would command.
Much will be made of the quotes attributed to the incoming coach in the article on the official site, with mention of ‘two provinces’ within the region, one being North of the M4 and the other being South.
Of course it is ridiculous to suggest that a region with the relatively small land mass that makes up ours should be further split into two, but I like to think Jones is making a good point but wording it badly.
The makeup of the pathway has changed drastically in recent years, as Clive Jones will have seen, with a notable shift away from junior sections of local clubs, to the schools system of the Dewar Shield, regional under-16s, college rugby and into the seniors. It is this which now forms the basis of a player’s development.
With the colleges becoming a crucial part of that pathway, there are two obvious hubs in the Cardiff Blues region, around Coleg y Cymoedd in the North, and Cardiff and Vale/Cowbridge Comp in the South. They are two leading rugby academies in the country, with only Coleg Sir Gar of the Scarlets region really coming close to matching them.
Building mini-pathways around them, and then bringing the best players together under the Cardiff Blues culture is a good move, and I get the impression that is what Jones is trying to say. The whole ‘seven Districts, two Provinces, one Region’ sound bite being just that. Something meaningless which reads well to certain areas but means little in practice.
The big challenge for Jones isn’t organising rugby cultures, or getting fans from around the region to buy into concepts, it’s ensuring that these talented players in the crucial final phase of their development make the big step from college graduates to Pro12 rugby players.
If he can be successful at that then it gives Cardiff Blues every chance to be successful in the short-term, and even better in the long-term if it’s matched with developments in the board room. Good luck Clive Jones, the future is in your hands!