As the date approaches for my annual last-minute season membership renewal I’ve done what all Cardiff Blues supporters know so well, go hunting for positives ahead of next season. It is the hope that kills you after all.
The 2019/20 campaign will be a strange one, as World Cup impacted seasons always are, with the Guinness Pro14 set to get underway in the last weekend of September, while European pool stage games are packed into just two months starting in mid-November.
This might present an opportunity for Cardiff Blues though, following the example set by Connacht in the last World Cup season of 2015/16.
That season the Irish side stormed out in front in the then Pro12 table, winning seven of the first eight games including away wins over Ospreys and Munster, as they both struggled to cope with international call-ups while unaffected Connacht could field a full squad.
When looking at the Cardiff Blues squad for next season a worse case scenario, if you like, sees Dillon Lewis, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, Tomos Williams and Josh Adams go to Japan with Wales, along with one of Owen Lane or Hallam Amos, while Rey Lee-Lo of Samoa would also be missing.
Assuming that Jarrod Evans isn’t selected with Gareth Anscombe and Dan Biggar on the plane, it means we could put out a squad that looks like this in the early part of the season;
Matthew Morgan, Owen Lane/Hallam Amos, Harri Millard, Willis Halaholo, Aled Summerhill, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Kris Dacey, Dmitri Arhip, Seb Davies, Josh Turnbull, Will Boyde, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams
Ethan Lewis, Brad Thyer, Kieron Assiratti, James Ratti, Shane Lewis-Hughes, Lewis Jones, Dan Fish, Garyn Smith
When you consider that the likes of Jason Harries, Corey Domachowski, Macauley Cook, James Down and Scott Andrews are still available to provide their experience, it’s not too bad depth-wise.
Losing eight players as a worst case scenario is much better than the likes of Ospreys and Scarlets down the way who will form the majority of the Wales squad, while the Scottish and Italian sides will be ravaged by their national teams.
What I haven’t considered in that squad though is the young players who could break onto the scene next season, and for me this is the particularly exciting aspect of the 2019/20 campaign, especially due it’s structure.
With the World Cup pushing the start of the Pro14 back a month, the Celtic Cup competition takes centre stage throughout August and September, giving the young players coming through the academy system a chance to show what they can do.
Obviously with money tight we will not be able to go out and splash the cash to address the gaps in the squad which are obvious above, but there are players coming through who now have a great chance to step up on the back of a successful spell with Cardiff Blues A.
The likes of hooker Iestyn Harris, tighthead Will Davies-King, second rows Callum Bradbury and Ben Murphy, back rowers James Botham and Alun Lawrence, scrum-half Jamie Hill and potential fly-half Ben Thomas can all stake a claim for first team minutes during the Celtic Cup.
Even in areas we have decent depth in there is talent, as Max Llewelyn moves through the system at centre, while Ioan Davies is talked about highly at full-back.
There is a perfect staged development opportunity for these players next season, going from the Celtic Cup, to a Pro14 without it’s internationals and then into a full Pro14 when they are all back towards the end of the season.
If these young players, who all clearly have the ability to make it, are ready to take that opportunity then it puts Cardiff Blues in a good position to push on in the league, and also on our return to the European Challenge Cup.
It’s not an ideal set of circumstances, however, if we can bring these young players through, have a decent season and then strengthen with the CVC money and Arms Park development to come, suddenly we’re not looking too bad at all.
So buy up your season memberships, get down to the Arms Park and enjoy another rollercoaster year with the Cardiff Blues. It’s all part of the fun!