Cardiff Blues officially confirmed this week that Richie Rees will replace Jason Strange as backs and attack coach for this coming season, ending the former Wales U20 coach’s time with us after just one year.
At the time of his announcement, it was generally accepted that bringing Strange on board was a good move from John Mulvihill. He had just presided over three years of Wales U20 success, winning the Grand Slam in 2016 and generally playing some very attractive rugby.
With the Cardiff Blues attack left in good shape after the work of Matt Sherratt and the victory in Bilbao to win a second European Challenge Cup, the feeling was that the sky was the limit when it came to scoring points.
Early on it seemed as if the partnership was working well, as although there were disappointing early season defeats, we were averaging three tries a game over the opening six rounds of the Pro14 and had try bonus points to show for the games against Irish big hitters Leinster and Munster.
However, this appeared to be papering over the cracks as poor attacking showings at home to Glasgow in the Heineken Champions Cup, away to Cheetahs, away to Glasgow in the Guinness Pro14 and away to Ulster, left us with just seven tries from four games.
Things did pick up during the second half of the season, as we earned try bonus points against Lyon, Glasgow, Southern Kings and Scarlets, but by this point it was becoming clear that it wasn’t how many tries we were scoring that was the issue, but how we were scoring them.
Across the league and Europe last season, Cardiff Blues scored 79 tries. While we earned plaudits for 23 of those coming from first or second phase strike plays, just seven tries were created from moves that started outside the 22 that weren’t on first or second phase.
That is to say, if we were outside the opposition 22 and went beyond second phase, the chances of creating a try in a single phase of play were very slim indeed. We only scored 9% of our tries in this manner.
In addition to that we rarely looked like scoring from distance, often looking lateral in our movement and struggling to create space out wide. Admittedly lacking big ball carriers in attack doesn’t help, but our use of the forwards left questions to be answered as well.
So on a rugby level the change is understandable, but beyond that it is encouraging to see John Mulvihill taking decisive action to get his coaching staff right and help push the team to the next level.
On the face of it, it appears that a lot of his backroom appointments last summer came on the back of recommendations from the Welsh Rugby Union, as Mulvihill was appointed late in the day, putting him on the back foot in terms of recruiting coaches.
But he is clearly a man who trusts his own judgement, so after taking a year to evaluate his coaching ticket, he has decided that Strange isn’t a fit and we will now move forward with Richie Rees in place instead.
That appointment in itself is a slight risk, as the former Cardiff Blues scrum-half has never worked at senior level before, but he has served a long apprenticeship with the Dragons and Cardiff Blues Academies, as well as Wales age grade teams.
He has also worked in close proximity to Mulvihill over the last year, and demonstrated he can talk a good game when appearing as a television pundit.
The signs are there that Mulvers is continuing to build the rugby department up in keeping with a vision that he has, without interference from outside suits, and long may it continue!