Welsh rugby in optimism shock

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Little over a year ago on this very website I sat at my keyboard and felt compelled to write an opinion piece entitled ‘Keep the Faith’ in response to events at the Arms Park over the course of last summer.

That article is available here, but the crux of it was that in a time of restricted playing budgets, uncertainty over the future of the ground and a summer of arguing on Twitter, we as Cardiff Blues supporters needed to stay behind the team during a rebuilding period during which our exciting crop of young players would gain experience.

Now, in a moment of maximum smugness, I will quote myself as noting there are ‘grounds to be positive about our chances of being competitive this season’ and that ‘we clearly still have the quality in our squad to compete’.

However, I will concede that I did not think the rebuilding period would take just four months and that we’d win nine of our last 11 first team games of the season and win the European Challenge Cup in Bilbao. A pleasantly unexpected surprise to say the least.

Cardiff Blues Challenge Cup 2018
Have I mentioned Bilbao enough yet?

That brings us to the 12 months and a few weeks after that article though, and clearly the outlook has changed somewhat.

Admittedly I have not been around in the world of Welsh rugby politics as long as some, but having spoken to others this is the most positive anyone has been heading into a season for some time. Possibly going back as far as rugby turning professional, and definitely since the switch to regional rugby in 2003.

Off the field, ‘Project Reset’ is close to being formally announced which secures the future and independence of three of the regions through additional funding and a vastly improved relationship with the Welsh Rugby Union.

Things are slightly different at the Dragons, where the finances aren’t brilliant, but on the field their squad has noticeably improved over the summer and on paper there are cautious signs to be optimistic for the Rodney Parade faithful.

Scarlets have added depth to their already strong squad and are in prime position to attract a top quality coach to replace Wayne Pivac, while Ospreys have brought in a solid coaching structure and have the makings of a decent squad, if a little light in certain areas.

Wayne Pivac Wales
Wayne Pivac will take over after Warren Gatland’s 40 year tenure as Wales coach

At Cardiff Blues, meanwhile, we are on the cusp of what could be a very exciting period in the club’s history.

New head coach John Mulvihill is impressing plenty with his style of coaching and man management, as well as his selection of backroom staff and his general demeanour with both the media and supporters.

The squad that has been assembled is impressive, with the shrewd acquisitions of Dmitri Arhip, Rory Thornton, Samu Manoa and Jason Harries complimenting a young squad with another season of experience under their belts and the confidence of the second half of last season.

Playing budgets are up, Peter Thomas feels the business is in a position whereby it no longer needs to rely on him and we are edging, albeit slowly, towards securing our future at the Arms Park.

Add in the promising coverage that Premier Sports are proposing of the Pro14, and the new Celtic Cup competition as the development pathway in Wales finally gets professional, and there is too much positivity. Something has to go wrong at some point.

Premier Sports Pro14
Premier Sports look set to finally offer some quality Pro14 coverage

I finished last year’s article with a reminder that ‘it’s the hope that kills you’, and that seems pertinent to do so again, but I would counter that with the fact that it is unlikely everything will be perfect under Mulvihill in the opening weeks.

There will be defeats, poor aspects of performances and work-ons, but there has to be an aim of being in a better position at Christmas this season than we were at the same point last season, and then push on for the Pro14 play-offs from there.

Nobody get ahead of yourselves…but has there been a better time to be a Cardiff Blues supporter and involved in Welsh rugby generally?

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