Cardiff Blues now know how our 2019/20 Guinness Pro14 campaign will look as the league released next season’s fixture list on Wednesday afternoon.
It means supporters can start booking days off and planning away trips across Scotland, Ireland, Italy and South Africa, and finally get excited for the new season despite being in the midst of a summer lengthened by the Rugby World Cup.
For the commercial and rugby departments though, they will be combing through the fixture list, looking at whether there are money-making opportunities and where points can be picked up, as they work to put Cardiff Blues back in the top tier of European rugby.
Splitting the season into fixture blocks, and the first block is a particularly critical one this year as it overlaps with the World Cup in Japan, stripping teams of their international contingent, while Cardiff Blues aren’t overly impacted.
On the commercial side there will likely be some smiles in the office as we avoid too many home games in this period, with the attention of the more occasional fan likely to be taken by the exploits of Wales, rather than being tempted to head down to the Arms Park.
Just one home game in the opening four, before two home games in the week after the World Cup comes to an end, is ideal as we can hopefully ride on the wave of a successful campaign from Warren Gatland’s men and draw some spectators in.
The rugby department will also be pretty pleased with how that opening block of fixtures pans out, although heading out to Port Elizabeth to take on the Southern Kings first up is a potentially tough game, as is any game out in South Africa, but particularly against a side who have recruited well this summer.
After that though, playing Edinburgh at home and Glasgow away is well-timed, as they will be without their international contingents, as will Ulster (A) and Munster (H) in rounds four and five, before we can hopefully take some momentum into a home game against Cheetahs, who have also recruited well, in round six.
The next block of fixtures is largely European games, as rounds one to four are squeezed into five weeks from mid-November to mid-December, only broken up by a tough looking game away at Benetton at the end of November, when they will have their Italian internationals back and we will be without any players selected to play for Wales against the Barbarians.
It’s back to a pleased commercial and rugby department over the festive period though as, although starting away at Ospreys is tough, there will be two victories and two sell-outs targeted when the Arms Park hosts Dragons on Boxing Day and Scarlets on Friday 3rd January.
Into the Six Nations period and, commercially, there isn’t much to shout about when it comes to playing Benetton at home on a Sunday afternoon at 5.15pm the day after Wales have played France in Cardiff, but from a rugby perspective it’s ideal to play them when they are without their internationals.
John Mulvihill will also be pleased to see Edinburgh away falling in this period again, but probably less excited about heading to Galway to face Connacht late on a Saturday evening.
The commercial department will return to smiles with two home games immediately after the Six Nations though, especially with one of them being the return of Ospreys to the Arms Park as the Wales players become available again, while on the rugby side they will be targeting two wins.
April starts off tough as we play Munster away followed by taking on Scarlets as the designated ‘away’ team at Judgement Day for the first time, but a run-in of Kings home, Connacht home, Leinster away and Dragons away should offer up some points and a few big crowds if we are still challenging for the play-offs.
With seven of the 10 home games coming on what is generally the more popular day of Saturday, rather than a Friday night, as well as three derbies at the Arms Park, a home game on Boxing Day and fixtures up to and including round 20 being confirmed, supporters will also be pleased on the whole.
Now it’s just the two months to wait until the 2019/20 season finally gets underway!