Aim for the Heineken stars

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This weekend’s Judgement Day clash with the Ospreys at the Principality Stadium has now become a straight shootout for a spot in the Heineken Champions Cup play-off after Cardiff Blues lost both of our last two games away in Ireland.

The winner on Saturday will progress to play one of Scarlets, Edinburgh or Benetton in a home tie to decide who the seventh Guinness Pro14 entry to the top table of European rugby is, barring the unlikely situation where Leinster win the Heineken Cup and all of the Challenge Cup semi-finalists have already qualified for next season’s competition.

As a result, this weekend’s game and then possibly one game beyond that will decide exactly how we look back on John Mulvihill’s first campaign in charge when end of season reviews are done.

However, not everyone is of the opinion that actually winning both games would be a good thing, with a growing movement suggesting Cardiff Blues would be better off in the Challenge Cup next season.

I can see where that argument comes from, with concerns over the quality of the playing squad as a whole next season and how competitive we would be in the Heineken Champions Cup.

There is also a school of thought that says potentially progressing to the knockout stages in the Challenge Cup is a more exciting prospect than playing in the group stages of the Heineken Cup with little chance of progressing.

In my opinion though, I want to see Cardiff Blues playing at the top level of European rugby next season, and I think it will be more beneficial for the club to do so.

Looking at the short-term, literally just the next few weeks, beating the Ospreys and then possibly the Scarlets in the Heineken Cup play-off will make a big statement to the Welsh Rugby Union and the Professional Rugby Board.

The second worst funded region finishing as the best placed Welsh region in the Pro14, top in the mini inter-regional league table and being the only Welsh team in the Heineken Cup next season is a great base to secure improved funding from the PRB alongside the prospective CVC investment.

Then there’s the commercial aspect of qualifying for the Heineken Cup, with the prestige of the competition, it’s six televised group games against top level opposition including the possibility of a decent kick-off time on free-to-air television, and the realistic chance of three Arms Park sell-outs or at the very least three decent crowds.

And finally there’s the mindset issue, although I’ll try not to sound too much like a self-help/business leadership book.

From the players perspective I would hope they would be up for challenging themselves against the best players playing domestic rugby in Europe, and rising to that challenge like we did against Saracens this season.

With an injury hit squad that saw us start Jarrod Evans at inside centre one week, and third choice scrum-half Lewis Jones the next, we lead for two of four halves against the now finalists, and pushed them into the last 10 minutes at the Arms Park.

Then as a sports team and a business having a winning mentality and some ambition running through all levels of the company can only be a good thing as we look to push into a hopefully successful era on the back of the CVC investment and an improved Cardiff Arms Park.

Of course, I could have just written ‘I want to beat the Ospreys’!

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