As those going sober for October see the finish line in sight, there was certainly a sobering feeling at the Arms Park on Sunday as Glasgow Warriors served up a cold reality check to Cardiff Blues.
The 12-29 defeat was disappointing on a number of levels, both on-field, where a whole host of missed tackles contributed to our downfall and an inability to convert possession and territory into tries was a huge issue, as well as off-field, where there was a great chance to impress a number of casual spectators and the crowd stayed silenced for large parts of the game.
There’s a worrying trend that John Mulvihill will need to address, as we have found ourselves down by between 10 and 12 points in the opening quarter of the last three games, and behind by 11 and 22 points in matches against Cheetahs and Glasgow.
Add in some frailties at the lineout and an inability to get our offload game going, and there’s still plenty to work on when it comes to on-field action.
However, and crucially what follows it just some context rather than any sort of excuse, this playing and coaching staff is still very much at the beginning of their journey and learning lessons as they go.
Only four of the starting XV had made it to double figures of Heineken Champions Cup fixtures, just six had actually played in a game at all and looking at the wider 23 there were only 11 players who had experienced the top table of European rugby previously, but seven of those hadn’t appeared in the competition for at least three years.
Take the experience of Nick Williams, Josh Turnbull, Samu Manoa, Lloyd Williams, George Earle and Rhys Gill out of the squad, and there’s only 39 Heineken Cup appearances shared between 17 players.
None of our five main coaches have ever coached a side in the Heineken Cup before, John Mulvihill is only three months into professional coaching in the Northern Hemisphere, and they are still gelling as a coaching team and with the players.
Nine of the matchday 23 were aged 25 and under, with 12 making their Heineken Cup debuts. All in all an inexperienced side, albeit missing a number of senior players through injury.
As a result what ended up on the field was not a performance that offered an accurate representation of what Cardiff Blues are about as a team.
Last week’s game against Lyon was a bit of a false dawn up against a side we knew quite well from last season in terms of style of play, as well as a side who were playing their first ever Heineken Cup game. Glasgow on the other hand are a regular top European side, and are actually an interesting case in point.
The Scottish side have made the Pro12/14 play-offs in six of the last seven seasons, finishing as runner-up in 2013/14 and winning the Final in 2014/15, yet in that time they have only reached the Heineken Cup knockout stages once, losing to Saracens in 2016/17.
It goes to underline the step up in quality between the league and the Heineken Cup, and that seemed to be what we didn’t quite expect when the game kicked off on Sunday.
Glasgow came out with that extra 10% of intensity about them and blitzed straight through Cardiff Blues in the first five minutes like a whirlwind. From that point onwards we were chasing the game and it showed in our play, particularly the lack of structure at times in attack, and the poor decision making in defence.
There’s no doubt that the game was a massive disappointment, but the aim has to be for it to be made a speed bump in the long run.
This group of players and coaches are at the beginning of a journey together, and with us as supporters. They have shown an ability to learn quickly after the first three games of the season, and they will need to keep doing that to improve.
The lessons will continue thick and fast as we travel to South Africa without a number of key players due to international call-ups and injuries, before facing a double header against English powerhouses Saracens in December.
However, I’d urge those supporters who perhaps aren’t regular attendees and may well have been underwhelmed by what they saw at the Arms Park on Sunday to say with us. There were glimpses and what we can do, and we’re only getting better.
Being Challenge Cup champions is great, but it doesn’t matter in the big boy competition. We’ve got to make a name for ourselves all over again.
Failing that, we’ll just ask Bruce Craig to campaign for a rematch on our behalf…