I’m starting writing this at just after 8.30am on the morning after Cardiff Blues lost 23-33 to Munster at home, the game that may well be the straw that broke the camel’s back for many people.
Now I write this blog and tweet as a supporter. It’s developed over time into something that is almost a one-stop shop for news, opinion and analysis, and seeing readers and followers going up is a nice feeling, but the heart of it is a blog I started because blogging is cheaper than therapy as a Cardiff Blues supporter.
As a result it’s going to come into it’s own today, with last night being one of the lowest points of my time supporting the team. I shall try and be as balanced as I can, but that may well be difficult.
We have now lost four games in a row, taking just one point from them, and find ourselves 11 points off the play-off places that come with Heineken Champions Cup qualification. A meeting with Cheetahs next week looks increasingly tough, before travelling to Benetton on the same day Wales play the Barbarians. Fun!
On the field there are clear tactical issues. In attack we look toothless, trying to play a style of rugby that sees us create space out wide by punching holes up front. The issue with that is we’re clearly incapable of punching holes up front as we don’t have the weight and ball carrying prowess.
What the thinking behind that game plan is I don’t know, when John Mulvihill himself acknowledged on WalesOnline’s Facebook live show just a few weeks ago that he wasn’t able to strengthen up front as he would have wanted, but it’s what we persist with.
We have had the longest pre-season in professional rugby history to upskill the players and play a style that suits our more mobile and fast squad, but the basic skill level appears to have gone down if anything, even before criticising a non-existent offload game.
At the set piece the lineout is consistently shaky. It was downright poor against Southern Kings, managed to ride through games against Edinburgh and Glasgow with simple throws to the front, and then as soon as we started trying to get good ball off it again in the last two weeks it has fallen apart.
In defence we’ve become a parody of ourselves in some respect. As the best turnover team in the Northern Hemisphere last season we’ve decided that challenging for the ball at every breakdown is the way to go, when common sense dictates that teams will be working hard to prevent us doing so.
As a result there are big gaps in our defensive line, and that is what creates the one-on-one match-ups that we missed so regularly in the home games against Edinburgh and Munster in particular.
This leads nicely on to the mentality of the team, which was so strong at the end of the Danny Wilson era, but has now departed it seems. Two away games in a row we failed to play for the first 20 minutes, then for a second home game in a row last night the mindset of making tackles wasn’t there.
From the outside it’s almost impossible to say whether this is down to poor team culture or the coaches not getting the players in the right head space before games, or even for some other reason, but we simply don’t look like a team that believes it can win, and worse, wants to win.
Now I’m not going to single out any players, I tend to avoid openly criticising players directly as much as possible, but if you are a player who gets mentioned and then you ‘like’ the tweet, that says more about you than anything.
What adds to my frustration is that a lot of the problems we are looking at are out of the hands of John Mulvihill, his coaching staff and the players. They go further up than that.
‘Project Reset’ was an unmitigated disaster, we know that. It tried to introduce radical changes to regional rugby at short notice during the middle of a season and just as every other team in the Northern Hemisphere was working to strengthen their squads for the next campaign.
In the end it left us with a status quo, but severely impacted Cardiff Blues as we were stuck with a wage budget of around £5.8m, only the Dragons had less, at a time when we had already signed Hallam Amos and Josh Adams under the belief that more money would be boosting coffers.
That never materialised. We lost Rhys Carre and Gareth Anscombe, missed out on signings such as Brumbies captain Sam Carter, were unable to replace retired players Gethin Jenkins and Matthew Rees, and effectively had to botch a squad together with a few late signings.
Then there was the dealings with Cardiff Athletic Club over the rent for the Arms Park, which incidentally is literally falling down, and the picture of an off-field mess is complete.
Where has communication been from the senior management in this time?
Richard Holland and Alun Jones both closed their Twitter accounts down, the CEO monthly newsletter stopped, the Shareholders AGM is still months and months overdue, meetings with supporters representatives have been cancelled.
There was an open meeting with the then new chairman back in March, in which he read a neatly polished PowerPoint presentation to us and fielded a few questions, but since then it’s been a closed shop. Radio silence.
I now quote directly from the notes of a meeting that did go ahead between Cardiff Blues and the CF10 Arms Park Rugby Trust back in mid-September, “RH said that CBL’s new approach is that it will communicate when necessary.”
That has to be a joke, right?
A professional sports team in the modern day and age with a communication strategy of ‘communicate when necessary’?! They should be bending over backwards to communicate as much as is humanly possible, getting supporters fully involved and immersed in the club via social media. Showing some respect.
Look over the bridge at Bristol and Gloucester, where communication via social media and from senior management is superb. Look at Scarlets where a representative of the Crys16 Trust attends board meetings. Then look at Cardiff Blues where we’re treated to communication when necessary.
Having said that, if I was about to blow the best chance to get the club moving forward, the CVC investment, and effectively hand control over to the Welsh Rugby Union making us an official feeder team for Team Wales with little hope of being competitive ourselves, I probably wouldn’t openly communicate either.
Two words; central contracts.
It’s a race to the bottom for the regional teams in Wales. Dragons are leading but Cardiff Blues and Ospreys are hot on their tails.
There was a ‘bring a friend’ offer last night. Chances of those friends staying? None. Chances of a number of regulars not turning up for the Cheetahs game next week? High.
I’ve no idea where we go from here, but things are looking very bleak indeed. A lot needs to change, and fast.