So the time has finally come, and with great sadness it is now official that Danny Wilson is no longer the head coach of the Cardiff Blues, after three years in the top job at the Arms Park.
In the face of off-field distractions, a squad with a fairly low age profile and with his departure imminent, Wilson has remained professional and committed to the last, and it is his hard work that has been a key factor in giving us Friday night in Bilbao.
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 saw 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 second 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.
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.
Then, when the well publicised financial restrictions come into force during the last 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 phrase, while other players were almost let go.
Danny was forced to switch to an in-house strategy of developing the youngsters, who undoubtedly had potential, but were untried and untested at the professional level, and many of them being trusted with key positions on the field.
What he has subsequently achieved is nothing short of a miracle and is a credit to the man that he is, to foster the team spirit that is so evident in this group of Cardiff Blues players, as well as the undoubtedly talented coach that he is, to devise the game plans to get us past the likes of Edinburgh, Pau and Gloucester.
The reasons surrounding his decision to move on will come out in full over the following years, but no amount of stating how ‘poor of a decision’ it is from Cardiff Blues to let him leave, or how he ‘must regret his decision’ to move on, will change the eventual outcome.
What we can do is throw all our support behind John Mulvihill and his coaching staff, to ensure that the legacy of Danny Wilson at Cardiff Blues is where a period of great success started, rather than where we had ‘that one season where we won in Europe’.
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.
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, and he has more than done that, not only winning us a European final, but actually hauling us out of the bad situation.
I can only wish Danny Wilson all the best at Wasps next season, and for his career beyond that, and extend a warm welcome back to the Arms Park whenever he wants, in a personal or professional capacity.
Thank you, Danny!