When we look back on the 141st year of rugby at Cardiff Arms Park, it will be seen as a year that everything could have changed, but nothing actually did.
If you had to choose a song to sum up 2017 for a Cardiff rugby supporter it what would be an Elvis Presley classic containing the lyrics ‘a little less conversation, a little more action please’.
It was the year we almost came under WRU ‘babysitting’, almost had to let eight high paid players go, almost went bust, told our star signing to go elsewhere, lose our head coach and attack coach, beat Toulouse away, and see Josh Navidi strike a left-foot kick into touch on halfway from his own 22.
In playing terms it was actually a calendar year of gradual improvement. 15 wins, 15 losses and a draw in the league and Europe seems fairly even, but after a fairly torrid January, February and March as the club came out of an injury crisis, there was a marked turnaround.
The back end of the 2016/17 campaign saw three straight league wins, whilst there was seven wins from the last eleven games of the year, with the only blip coming from the first three matches of 2017/18 after a disrupted pre-season.
At times the attack has been unplayable, often orchestrated by an in-form Gareth Anscombe, with Willis Halaholo finding his hot-stepping feet throughout this first full year in Cardiff. Up front the ever reliable Cardiff Blues back-rower Josh Navidi has quickly become the ever reliable Wales back-rower Josh Navidi.
Building for the future has become the order of the year. An almost never ending list of players have made their mark; Corey Domachowski, Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, Kieron Assiratti, Seb Davies, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith, Owen Lane and Rhun Williams. A golden generation has arrived.
New players have come in with varying degrees of success. Damian Welch finally made his Cardiff Blues debut 11 years late, but Jack Roberts has struggled to piece together 40 minutes. Olly Robinson arrived, went away, planned to return, then just turned up early!
Shaun Edwards came in and revolutionised the defence from a Tuesday session. Line speed, intensity, commitment and physicality. All required to avoid the wrath of a man rumoured to end a career with a single stare.
Off the field there was enough material to write a very entertaining chapter of a book one day. Never mind the Trump administration, the Cardiff Blues politics are enough to keep a fake news website in business for a few years.
There was chairmen speaking too much at AGMs, fall-outs with landlords, convincing of coaches not to quit, not being able to afford new signings, then subsequently being able to afford the new signing too late, head coaches moving on, and assistant coaches leaving after a new coach was seen in a city centre culinary establishment.
Finish it off with a prospective new coach being leaked to a journalist and then the governing body stepping in to interfere with the process, and it just about sums up the year that almost was.
Lease negotiations are probably where they were approximately two years ago, and governance is no better as representatives of an amateur organisation block proposals to move the company forward, despite holding views at odds with the membership they purport to represent. You couldn’t make it up.
Through it all though the toxic Cardiff Blues live on. It’s been 141 years so far, it’ll be another one yet. Performances improve, attitude gets better and results continue to drip through. With the last game of the season the injuries abated and the Arms Park returned to it’s sold out glory.
There’s life in the old girl yet, even if she does have to witness losing to Connacht on a freezing cold Sunday during the Six Nations. Fortunately beating Dragons in the cold, wind and rain at Rodney Parade, and breaking bogey side the Ospreys at Judgement Day make those games worthwhile.
Whatever happens I’m Cardiff ’til I die. Here’s to 2018, and another year of being a disgrace to the national game! The good times are coming, I feel it in my bones…