The 2018/19 Cardiff RFC season came to an end in North Wales on Saturday as an experimental Blue and Blacks went down 63-24 to RGC at Parc Eirias.
Although it wasn’t the best result of the campaign, the fact that head coach Steve Law was able to have a look at a number of potential signings as permit players having already secured second place in the Principality Premiership is testament to the efforts of those who have played for the majority of the season.
I’m sure even the most die-hard positive Cardiff RFC supporter wouldn’t have predicted how the next year would go when last summer the Blue and Blacks limped across the line at the end of an injury-hit 2017/18 season that saw us finish eighth in the final table.
Only six points separated us from 12th place Aberavon, a position that would have seen us involved in a play-off against WRU Championship winners Pontypool this season, and seven points separated us from Llanelli who would have been automatically relegated as four teams went down to reduce the Premiership to a 12-team league.
However, Steve Law quietly built a squad capable of making waves in the league, bringing in players with extensive professional quality such as Thomas Davies, Morgan Allen, Rory Pitman, Martin Roberts and Steffan Jones to provide experienced heads.
He matched them with some astute signings from around the Premiership and the wider semi-professional scene, with Zach O’Driscoll, Sam Pailor, Joe Gatt and Mathew Powell coming on board, as well as Scott Gibson, Aled Cockwell and Edd Howley arriving from troubled Neath.
More than that though, he built a culture that saw a semi-professional squad without the luxury of training every day bear more than a resemblance to the close knit nature of a successful professional setup.
A base level of working hard for each player and seeing the greater good in some starting XV tinkering from Law throughout the season set Cardiff up in good stead for what was to come.
Add in the professional experience and tactics of coaching additions Gethin Jenkins and T Rhys Thomas, as well as the ever increasing reputation of Llyr Lane, and everything was set for the Blue and Blacks to push on.
There were certainly tests for the setup, with three losses in the first four games of the season, just a single win coming from December, and back-to-back April defeats away at rivals Swansea and Pontypridd all threatening to derail to team.
However on each occasion they bounced back in style, winning every game in October and November, doing the same in January, February and March, and then winning four games in fourteen days across the end of April and the beginning of May.
Of course one of those games was the WRU National Cup Final, our first time lifting the trophy since 1997, and secured in some style with a terrific win over Merthyr who have been so dominant at this level over the last few years. A fitting reward for a fine season.
Unfortunately the downside to such a successful year in many ways is that now there are other clubs sniffing round some of the players with the promise of better money or a switch to the professional game.
Club captain Joey Tomlinson has had offers, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the likes of Zach O’Driscoll, Gareth Thompson, Joe Gatt and Edd Howley were talked to, amongst others, while Cardiff Blues academy players James Botham, Callum Bradbury, Ben Thomas and Max Llewellyn are likely to be moving up the pathway.
Such is the nature of the sport industry, but hopefully a core of the squad can stay together, and with Steve Law’s ability to spot (pun intended) a quality player then the future can stay bright at the Arms Park.