It’s the big question on the lips of Blue and Blacks supporters everywhere, can Cardiff RFC go one step further and end the reign of Merthyr as undisputed Indigo Group Premiership champions?
Last year saw Steve Law’s side push the Ironmen all the way, recovering from a horror start that saw us win just once in four games, to a stunning run that saw us lose just one game between the beginning of October and the end of March, including winning the first 11 straight games of 2019.
In the end it was back-to-back April defeats at the hands of Pontypridd and Swansea that brought the title challenge to a close, although we did still come away with silverware, defeating Merthyr in the Specsavers Cup Final to lift the trophy for the first time since 1997.
After that there have been plenty of squad changes with 18 new faces joining 14 remaining squad members, and it’s from this that stems a number of side questions that will ultimately answer the big one of whether Cardiff can topple Merthyr.
The first is whether the squad can gel quickly, with the answer being there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be able to and subsequently hit the ground running.
While there are a lot of new signings, the core of the squad remains roughly the same, with players in key positions down the spine of the team such as number eight, fly-half and full-back largely unchanged, and the culture able to move between seasons.
The second point there should be assisted by the continuity within the coaching staff, as head coach Steve Law, defence coach Gethin Jenkins and forwards coach T Rhys Thomas all continue, while James Dixon steps up from assisting with the backs and attack to running them himself.
If they do gel quickly then hitting the ground running will be key in order to avoid replicating the poor start to 2018/19, and from there the second side question is just how strong will the other opposition be this season?
Of course we lost four teams to the Championship last season as the Premiership was cut from 16 to 12 teams, and this has allowed the remaining sides to add some quality, with Ebbw Vale and Newport picking up players from the other Gwent clubs, while Bridgend will be more closely linked to the Ospreys next season.
Pontypridd have signed a large number of talented local players from the lower divisions, while Merthyr have added professional level quality, including former Cardiff Blues players Damian Welch and Chris Czekaj.
With fewer teams and greater concentration of talent each week will be a challenge, with teams now having a better chance of moving up the table, but also mindful that with straight promotion/relegation for the bottom team the threat of dropping to the Championship is real.
Then it comes to the final side question, with each week being a tough game, how injury free can the squad stay? It was a crucial element of last season, Law tinkering with the squad well to keep everyone fresh, but the memory of 2017/18 lives on whereby the squad suffered from an extensive injury crisis.
The key to this will be managing the squad carefully through the first three or four games, where any requirement to call players up to the Cardiff Blues A side could stretch the Cardiff RFC squad, while beyond that the December/January fixture list is a hectic one, with eight games in as many weeks taking in big ties such as Merthyr at home and Pontypridd away.
Fortunately Law has built a squad that has more depth than most seen at the semi-professional level at the Arms Park for a while, and there are still reinforcements to come from the Cardiff Blues Academy too, with a nice balance struck on their availability last season.
So with the answers to the side questions largely positive, it results in the answer to the main question being yes, there is no reason why Cardiff RFC can’t go one step better than last year and claim the Indigo Group Premiership title.
If you are a supporter and haven’t attended many, if any, Blue and Blacks games I would urge you to get down to one or two next season at the Arms Park. Entry is included in your Cardiff Blues season membership.
The standard is obviously not the same as the professional level, but it’s exciting rugby with less tactical kicking resulting in a more open game, and while there’s a few more mistakes on the whole it is a very good standard, as well as being a good Saturday afternoon out at a slightly more relaxed Arms Park.
So get behind Cardiff RFC this season as the big city boys look to claim the crown, come on Cardiff!