As July comes around it means the northern hemisphere club rugby world begins to awake after a June slumber, and the dreaded pre-season is faced again, with league action just two months away.
That date with fitness is on Monday for the players in the Cardiff Blues squad that did not go on any summer tours during the June international window, and sees the first time that new head coach John Mulvihill will officially work with the group in a coaching role.
A few weeks ago for the CF10 Arms Park Rugby Trust I had a look at five things that needed to be on the Australian’s to-do list during this crucial few weeks of preparing the squad for the Guinness Pro14 season, and an assault on the Heineken Champions Cup, but one of those needs to be looked at in a bit more detail.
For John Mulvihill, selecting a club captain will be an important decision early on in his tenure at the Arms Park, as he looks to make his mark on dealings at Cardiff Blues without disrupting the team culture that was a fundamental part of our success in the second half of last season.
As a result he’s got to weigh up whether sticking with the leadership as it is currently is the best decision, or whether a new coach should also signal a new captain to take the club through the next few years.
It’s no exaggeration to call incumbent captain Gethin Jenkins a Cardiff Blues legend, a Wales legend and indeed a legend of rugby in general. 194 appearances for us, 129 Wales caps and 5 British and Irish Lions test appearances, the most capped prop forward in the history of the international game and soon to join Taufa’ao Filise in the post-2003 200 club.
He has officially led the club since 2015, having been matchday captain on numerous occasions before that, and has had a hand in lifting both the 2010 and 2018 European Challenge Cups. His experience has been vital in the last few years of transition, while his personal form is still at a very high level.
However, times are changing for Melon now as he turns 38 in June and his playing career winds it’s way towards a well earned retirement. As a result the loosehead is starting to look at the coaching side of the game, and will assist with the defensive side of the new Cardiff Blues U23 game.
With this in mind, the 2018/19 season could be the perfect time to name a new club captain for the start of the John Mulvihill era, to allow Gethin Jenkins the chance to concentrate on his coaching, and the new captain to start their leadership journey alongside the new head coach.
In terms of potential candidates, there is a hefty list of Cardiff Blues players that would make excellent captains, with many having already had experience of leading the team on matchdays.
The front runner would undoubtedly be Ellis Jenkins, who has been the go-to man to cover the captaincy on matchdays over the last couple of seasons.
Affectionately dubbed ‘Simba’, courtesy of the fact that he is a future Lion King, the flanker has been the go-to man to cover the matchday captaincy in the last two seasons, having visibly grown from an academy graduate with bags of potential into a fully fledged Welsh international in front of ours.
However that meteoric rise now means that, if fit, Ellis is more than likely to be selected in Warren Gatland’s squads for the Autumn Internationals, Six Nations and next year’s Rugby World Cup, raising the issue of whether it is desirable to have a captain who is present at the training ground all season.
The same issue goes for Gareth Anscombe, who is a regular in the Team Wales setup, while the likes of Kris Dacey, Josh Turnbull, Josh Navidi and Lloyd Williams are all on the fringes of the international scene, with Blaine Scully away with the USA Eagles during some test windows.
Then, of the players are available all year round, captaincy options like Olly Robinson and Macauley Cook are good candidates, but are locked in battles to make it into a Cardiff Blues starting XV when the majority of the squad is available.
It all adds up to a tough decision for John Mulvihill, having to decide the lesser evil between asking Gethin Jenkins to combine a coaching role with the captaincy, having a Team Wales squad member as the leader, or picking a player who is not guaranteed a position in the first team.
In my humble opinion, the answer is to use the strength of the squad in terms of leadership to our advantage.
I’d select Ellis Jenkins as the club captain as a clearly popular leader of the squad, someone with captaincy experience in terms of communication and leading by example, and someone who seems to take the off-field aspects of captaincy in his stride; engaging with supporters, attending sponsorship events etc.
Underneath Jenkins I’d then put in place a strong leadership group, made up of players who are also Welsh internationals, on the fringes of Warren Gatland’s squad and a squad players at the Cardiff Blues, who can step in on matchdays when required and provide a continuity to the captaincy role.
This then allows the likes of Matthew Rees and Gethin Jenkins to focus on transitioning from the playing to the coaching group, in what could well be their last seasons of long and illustrious careers.