With the Guinness Pro14 fixtures for the 2019/20 season set to be released later today, I’ve had a look at six things that Cardiff Blues supporters should be keeping an eye on.
The first six
With the Rugby World Cup taking place between late September and early November, the domestic season in the Northern Hemisphere will be disrupted with a late start to the season expected to be confirmed, as well as at least one weekend off for the knockout stages.
What this does mean though, is that big hitters like Leinster, Scarlets and Glasgow, as well as sides from two-team countries like Edinburgh, Benetton and Zebre, will be heavily hit by international call-ups.
Cardiff Blues, on the other hand, will not be suffering from losing too many players, with a worst case scenario only seeing seven players head to Japan. As a result, getting off to a good start will be key, and is a real possibility if we come up against decimated opponents while we put out a settled team.
How will Christmas work?
Last season saw some outcry over the lack of Boxing Day and New Year’s Day fixtures, with many feeling that the league missed out on having showpiece derbies on these days traditionally linked to watching rugby.
The commercial departments at clubs were also likely disappointed to miss out on those crowds, even though the games still drew decent attendances, although the players seemed very pleased not to have to miss out entirely on the Christmas Day fun!
Christmas once again falls on an awkward midweek day this year, meaning we will likely miss out on Boxing Day and New Year’s Day games again, unless the league opts for an unlikely four-day turnaround between matches.
With the World Cup, and of course the Six Nations, the amount of time a player will spend with their club will be severely restricted next season. If they were to make the World Cup Final the likelihood is that they would not play in the Pro14 until Christmas.
Then heading off to the Six Nations from the end of January until the end of March, means they might only be available for nine Pro14 regular season games. As a result, the league may end up having to schedule derby games knowing that the big names won’t be available to play.
This would be a blow for the commercial departments, who rely on marketing those derbies as seeing the internationals in club action, in order to gets bums on seats.
How many home games?
Although the Conferences have been changed up for next season, with Cardiff Blues now in Conference B with Munster, Connacht, Scarlets, Benetton, Edinburgh and Southern Kings, the format of the competition remains the same.
12 games against the teams in our Conference, four games against the Welsh teams in the other Conference, and five games against the rest of the teams in the other Conference, for a total of 21 regular season games.
This means that some teams will play 10 home games, and others will play 11. This is done on an every other basis, but it may not be possible to carry that on from last season with the Conference changes. Ending up with less home games for a second season in a row won’t please some at the Arms Park.
South African tours
You may recall the last time that Cardiff Blues attempted to head for Bloemfontein they spent two days stuck in an airport, only making it to the city the day before we were due to face the Cheetahs, and subsequently losing late in the game as legs got heavy.
That trip may be undertaken again as we are set to return for a double header in South Africa, although like with the amount of home games we play, that remains to be seen as we now find ourselves in a Conference with Kings, rather than Cheetahs.
If we do end up with two weeks in the Southern Hemisphere though, the timing will be crucial. Ideally it will come next April, with our international players back and ready to take on the South Africans, as those two games could be key to determining our season.
Judgement Day lives on
It was announced last season that Judgement Day would continue for the next four years, despite the initial deal coming to an end after last season’s edition, with a new deal having some fundamental changes.
Money from gate receipts will be split differently, with 80% going to home sides and 20% to away sides, with Ospreys and Scarlets able to be nominated as home teams, rather than just Cardiff Blues and Dragons.
The WRU confirmed they would work with the Pro14 to ensure that the teams with 11 home games would be nominated as home teams at Judgement Day, so all four teams would have 10 games in their home ground. It remains to be seen whether that will happen…