If you are at all familiar with Welsh culture you will more than likely be aware of Dafydd Iwan’s song ‘Yma o Hyd’, a piece of folk music about the survival of Wales and the Welsh language.
In sporting terms it is most likely to be heard at Parc y Scarlets or Wrexham FC’s Racecourse, but at the start of this European Challenge Cup semi-final week I am going to briefly claim it for Cardiff Blues, as it fits in nicely with where we are as a club at the moment.
“Ry’n ni yma o hyd, er gwaethaf pawb a phopeth”
“We’re still here, in spite of everyone and everything.”
Taking the last 12 months alone, it’s been a fairly turbulent time both on and off the field at the Arms Park, with the threat of handing the ‘franchise’ (whatever that is) over to the Welsh Rugby Union, potentially crippling budget cuts that were mostly avoided but led to the release of Franco van der Merwe before he even joined, a poor start to the season that saw three losses from three games, and the news that the head coach would be leaving at the end of the year.
Add in the distraction of faltering Arms Park lease negotiations with the Cardiff Blues board looking at options to possibly move to a new stadium within the city, as well as a lengthy search for a replacement head coach, and it has certainly been a challenging year.
Throughout this time there has been a backdrop of threats to Cardiff Blues as an independent organisation, and subsequently to the identity of the club, risking over 140 years of rugby history at the Arms Park and in the capital city of Wales.
Critics have queued up to have a dig at us; Delme Parfitt, Gwyn Jones and David Bishop have all been keen to have a dig at us this season, while Andy Howell actually suggested we were worse than Zebre back in November, but they totally failed to see the bigger picture.
We started slowly because of the lack of pre-season time. That was brought on ourselves, yes, but in the long-term it paid off as there was fewer risk of injuries, and as such we have managed to avoid an injury crisis this campaign.
There were also a lot of young players being bedded into the side. Brad Thyer, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith and Owen Lane have all spent their first full seasons as serious candidates for first XV places. They can’t all just come into the team and get results straight away.
Er dued yw’r fagddu o’n cwmpas, ry’n ni’n barod am doriad y wawr!
Despite the blackness around us, we are ready for the breaking of the dawn!
Finally, this Cardiff Blues team has really shown what it is made of when we have our backs to the wall.
As far back as the First World War, Cardiff have faced setbacks. The team of the early 20th Century was decimated between 1914-18, but after turning to a crop of younger players, we recovered to unofficial Welsh champions in 1937, 38 and 39.
In the glory years of the 1970s we would fail to reach the Welsh Challenge Cup semi-finals for the first time in 1974/75, but recover to beat Australia that very same season, while into the 1990s and 91/92 was the worst season in the club’s history, before Alec Evans led a revival and eventually we took our place in the first ever Heineken Cup Final in 1996.
Then as recently as 1999/00 season there was the humiliation of being beaten 60-18 by Llanelli in Stradey Park during the World Cup before bouncing back to win the Welsh/Scottish League that very same year.
Casting our minds back to September of this season, we probably didn’t realise just how significant the hard fought victory over Connacht in Galway would turn out to be, but when reviewing the campaign as a whole, there is no doubt that was a turning point.
It gave us the confidence to overcome a defeat in Munster the following week to win five out of the next games, before again having to get over three losses in five games over Christmas, including being nil’d by Sale, to go eight games unbeaten through to April.
Games against Cheetahs, Munster, Dragons, Toulouse and Edinburgh were secured thanks to solid rear guard action at important times, and are games that in previous years we’d have almost certainly lost.
Byddwn yma hyd ddiwedd amser, a bydd Gleision Caerdydd yn fyw!
We’ll be here until the end of time, and Cardiff Blues will be alive!
So I might have changed the lyrics slightly, but it brings me on to the future, and the undeniable brightness of it.
Although there is a crucial experienced backbone to the squad, the vast majority of players are under the age of 25. The likes of Kirby Myhill, Dillon Lewis, Seb Davies, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams, Jarrod Evans, Garyn Smith, Aled Summerhill, Owen Lane and Rhun Williams have all played big parts in this season and will only get better with age.
They are an undoubtedly talented group, keen to play exciting, attacking rugby, and with a tight team bond, with international honours aplenty await. Hopefully they can continue to have a big impact on the fortunes of Cardiff Blues over the next few years though.
John Mulvihill is a left-field appointment but comes recommended by all the right people, and is building an exciting young Welsh coaching team around him, while there are early positive signs that Cardiff Blues and Cardiff Athletic Club are getting back on track to negotiating a future at our Arms Park home.
In the short-term though, this Saturday is the only thing that matters. A European semi-final at a sold-out CAP, an occasion not to be missed whether you’ve been watching for 40 years or it’s your first ever game.
There are so many angles of looking at the fixture against Pau, but all of them just increase the magnitude of the event.
It’s a chance to extend the proud history that Cardiff Blues has in European competition, as well as an opportunity to show off just how well we have been playing this season. How amazing it would be to finish off the year in Bilbao at a European cup final.
It’s also a moment for us supporters to enjoy. There’s no arguing that sticking it out on the terraces has been a test of patience over the last few years, but this second half of the season has been reward aplenty and it’s great to have an occasion like this to look forward to.
Finally, it’s the best way possible to bid farewell to Danny Wilson, Matt Sherratt and a number of popular players who will leave for pastures new this summer. The work they have done over the last few years, and particularly this season, has been of the highest quality, and without them this success would not have been possible.
When this current crop of youngsters reach their full potential and, hopefully, we are back consistently at the top of European rugby, we will look back and say that it all started with Danny and Matt.
Until then though, make sure you have the golden ticket to get to the Arms Park on Saturday, and enjoy all the coverage of the build up to the game on here and @CardiffRugbyWeb. Come on Cardiff!