It is that time of year again, and as another season comes to an end, we must say goodbye to those players moving on to pastures new over the summer.
There is a slight difference this year as, after nine players departed last year, and a whopping 21 players headed out of the door at the end of the 2015/16 season, there are just three members of the playing staff leaving the Arms Park this summer, as the squad retains a sense of solidity.
Of course, there are more than just players leaving after winning the Challenge Cup this season, and while the squad remains largely the same, there is upheaval in the coaches box.
Where else to start but with the King of Tonga? After 255 appearances and 12 seasons as a Cardiff Blue, the tighthead prop bows out as a two-time European Challenge Cup champion, one-time Anglo-Welsh Cup winner and an all-time legend.
In typical Fa’ao Filise fashion there was no grand announcement of retirement, no farewell dinner or pitchside presentation. All we saw was him waving a giant flag at the Arms Park and receiving a guard of honour in Bilbao, and he looked suitably embarrassed by both.
However, he doesn’t need any of that, for his name is already written in Cardiff Blues folklore. Even at 40 he was still considered first choice tighthead, going up against players who weren’t even school age when his career started in New Zealand. There will never be another Taufa’ao Filise, long live the King of Tonga!
In any other year the departure of the Big Horse would have been the main headline news, as the winger heads to Aviva Premiership outfit Exeter Chiefs next season after seven years with the Cardiff Blues.
A definitive cult hero, Cuthbert has 46 tries in 115 games since graduating from Cardiff Metropolitan University, and been capped 47 times by Wales, as well as once for the British and Irish Lions in the same period, but wasn’t widely adored outside of the Arms Park.
Indeed he was often the target for online trolls whenever Wales took the field, and has now taken the decision to head to Sandy Park from next season, with Exeter fighting off other potential suitors from England and France.
While it is disappointing to lose a player of Cuthbert’s quality, it is an understandable move for him on a personal level, and at just 28, the Big Horse has plenty of time to return to Cardiff where he will always be welcome.
Another man who started at university in Cardiff, Damian Welch will leave the Arms Park eleven years after arriving at the club for the first time, but without the status afforded to Filise and Cuthbert.
Despite his history with the club going back to 2007, it was only this season that Welch made his Cardiff Blues debut, after appearing 49 times for Cardiff RFC in his first stint with the club, before moving on to Scarlets and Exeter Chiefs.
Re-joining last summer, the 35-year-old has been a key member of Danny Wilson’s squad this season, making 22 appearances in all season and coming off the bench in the European Challenge Cup Final.
A ball carrying danger on the wing and an astute lineout technician, he will be a loss to the second row ranks but a good acquisition for Cross Keys in their quest to avoid relegation from the Principality Premiership.
While that is it for the players, we unfortunately have to say goodbye to our head coach as Danny Wilson moves on to become the forwards coach at Wasps from next season.
Now, the reasons why have been much discussed, and the real reasons won’t be known until someone writes a book most probably, but it doesn’t really matter, because Danny is leaving no matter what. Having said that, it doesn’t make it any less sad.
Wilson came in at a time when a lot of work needed to be done to the squad, and as mentioned at the start of this blog, has released around 30 players in three seasons. A lot of people did not appreciate that when results did not go our way early on, but there were signs of improvement building up to this season.
Unfortunately he did not get the financial backing he hoped for, but Danny still worked wonders with the players at his disposal, and although he now leaves at a time when money is starting to become available, Cardiff Blues are in a far better shape now than when he started. That is all you can ask of a coach.
Hopefully he will not be lost to the Welsh game, and he is always welcome back for what will be a third spell at the Arms Park, having already been Cardiff RFC coach earlier in his career. Thank you for all you have done for the club Danny.
Joining Danny in leaving the door of the coaches box at the Arms Park is his right hand man, backs and attack coach Matt Sherratt.
After coming on board in the second season of Wilson’s tenure, former Bristol backs coach has done excellent work with the Cardiff Blues attack, taking us through a period of much change amongst the personnel in the three-quarter line.
We have been a joy to watch, particularly in the second half of this season, and Sherratt’s Wales call-ups have underlined his reputation as a coach. Heading West to take on the Ospreys attack is not an easy job by any means, but if there’s one man who can get something out of them it will be Jockey. Best of luck to him also, except for two games a season!
At the time of writing it appears Anton Peikrishvili will actually be staying at the Arms Park for next season. Cardiff Blues are working on announcing more players who have re-signed, as well as new signings for 2018/19.