In many ways the 2018/19 Cardiff Blues season may well be one of the most forgettable in recent years after it fell to a disappointing conclusion at Judgement Day.
Off-the-field there was plenty to discuss, with Project Reset causing ructions across Welsh rugby with talks of mergers and new regions, while the lengthy contract saga of Gareth Anscombe dragged on for a few weeks longer than was necessary.
There isn’t much to show for Cardiff Blues on-field efforts though after a Heineken Champions Cup campaign that was really over before it started, and a Guinness Pro14 season that threatened to be a success, but ended all too predictably by missing out on all available play-offs.
On the face of it the season appears to be more failure than success, but while disappointing to enter the summer with nothing tangible, there is no great feeling of doom and gloom given the small margins that we have seen between winning and losing.
Seven losing bonus points are evidence of narrow defeats, three of which came in the first three games of the season and another two in the final two games of the season, as it was often a case of ‘so close, yet so far’, and that’s how the league table was left looking in the end.
Just two of those narrow losses going our way would have not only seen us jump the Ospreys, but also Connacht and secure a Pro14 play-off spot and automatic entry into the Heineken Cup. With four of those five games at the beginning and end of the season going into the last few minutes, we are just a few bounces of the ball away.
Of course you could change ‘bounces of the ball’ to ‘blows on the whistle’ in that sentence, with Cardiff Blues left feeling hard done by over refereeing decisions on too many occasions this season.
Head of Pro14 Referees Greg Garner has admitted we would have won each of the opening three games of the season but for incorrect officiating, while we were denied clear tries at both Ulster and Connacht which would have put us into the lead at crucial times.
Then there’s us of course, and making crucial mistakes at times in games, as we’ve overthrown lineouts, missed touch, tried miracle offloads and missed penalties when accuracy is needed to see out games, or go for winning scores.
On this level it’s important to remember that the coaching ticket was essentially all-new last season, and you would expect it to take a season for them to embed properly, especially given their relative inexperience either at this level or even in this country.
John Mulvihill is in his first professional head coach role, and has never coached in Wales or in the Pro14 before, Jason Strange is in his first professional club coaching job, Richard Hodges is solo as defence coach for the first time, while Tom Smith and Duane Goodfield are in senior first team coaching roles for the first time.
With all the off-field distractions of Project Reset, with wage bandings causing issues and a lack of budgets preventing contracts being sorted, it’s no surprise that inconsistency has been one of the stories of the season.
One area that has been consistent is the effort of the players though, with only the first 40 minutes away at Glasgow in the Pro14 sticking out as disappointing in this respect. When leaving a game it’s difficult to complain if everything has been left on the field, and the squad have done the jersey proud this season.
What the future holds is the big question at the moment, but that is for another blog!