The news we all dreaded has finally been confirmed. Danny Wilson will soon no longer be the head coach of the Cardiff Blues, as he prepares to leave come the end of the season. A sad day in the history of the club.
Ever since his appointment in the summer of 2015, Danny has been one of the most universally popular coaches at the Arms Park, especially in terms of his off-field manner and approachability. Never too much trouble for a photo or a chat, always keen to interact with the supporters club. A top bloke.
In terms of his coaching he came in at a really tough time. Two years of Phil Davies, eight months of Mark Hammett and some interspersed Paul John and Dale McIntosh caretaker periods had left the side lacking confidence and quality.
The 2014/15 Pro12 had seen us finish last of the Welsh sides, closer to the Italian sides below us than Champions Cup qualification. The lowest we’ve been since 2003’s overhaul in the country’s professional rugby setup.
That very first season was a nightmare start for Wilson, being handed all four Irish teams away in the first two months of his tenure, and to top it off, it was right in the middle of the 2015 World Cup.
However, he steered us from a basically winless start to seventh place, just seven points off European rugby’s top table, and the second highest place within the Welsh teams mini-league.
21 players were subsequently released that season, as Danny completely stripped out the squad of the deadwood, opting for a quality over quantity approach. Nine more players were subsequently released last summer, but that left him with two big problems.
Firstly, when injuries struck last season on a serious level, at one point 18 players were stuck in the treatment room, the squad just did not have the depth to compete during that crucial December/January period.
Subsequent poor form during the festive period lead to inconsistencies as players slowly returned to fitness, and it wasn’t until the very last weeks of the season that results started to even out.
Secondly, when the well publicised financial restrictions come into force during the off-season, it meant signings could not be made to bolster the quality side of the new ethos for the squad management. Franco van der Merwe was ‘unsigned’, for want of a better phase, while other players were almost let go.
Switching to an in-house strategy of developing the undoubtedly talented youngsters is all well and good, but it requires a complimenting group of experienced players and foreign talent to ensure that the team is still competitive.
Wilson has asked for an increased budget, but the board have said that as things stand they can’t offer him that. Any increased WRU or TV money was promised to him, but it wasn’t enough to keep him. It’s the overspending that has got us into this mess, so I can’t blame the board for turning down that request at present.
I can’t blame Danny at all for that. He’s a very good coach who deserves better than he has at the Arms Park, and is on a hiding to nothing staying put with no backing.
Wilson has done a hell of a lot of good for this club, taking us from no-hopers with a squad propped up by semi-professional Welsh Premiership players, to a squad with some very talented overseas players and a group of supremely talented youngsters.
There were the good times of that run at the end of his first season in charge, including a win at Parc y Scarlets. The first four games unbeaten last year, as well as a European quarter-final at Gloucester and the Judgement Day win against the Ospreys.
Throughout his tenure Danny has been honest and hard working. Fronting up when performances below par, treating supporters with respect, and turning down a huge personal opportunity to tour with Wales so he could stay and work on the Cardiff Blues.
He could have left when the WRU ‘takeover’ went awry and we were staring down the barrel of a number of first team players being released, but he stayed and tried to make the best of a bad situation.
However, there’s only so much any man can put up with, and Wilson’s time as Cardiff Blues head coach will come to an end in the next few months.
Until then I know he’ll continue to put 100% into taking this club forwards, and that ending on a high will be a huge thing for him. Thank you, Danny, and here’s to the next few months. Come on Cardiff!!