Rewind three years and the relationship between Cardiff Blues and Cardiff RFC was at one of it’s lowest points, with neither side profiting from the working arrangement.
The Blue and Blacks would finish sixth in the bottom tier of a Welsh Premiership that, at the time, was being split in two at the halfway point of the season. The overall record would be played 22, won nine, lost 13.
Cardiff Blues were finishing seventh in the Pro12, as it was then, with a winning record of 11 wins and 10 losses, but 16 points off making the play-offs and third in the Welsh regions mini-table.
In terms of working together on developing each squad, there was little or no planning or communication. Players would be parachuted into the RFC team with instructions to only be used for a specific amount of time, while few players made their way successfully through the RFC side into the Blues team.
Big changes started in the summer of 2017 though when Steve Law came on board as Cardiff RFC Director of Rugby, and when John Mulvihill was appointed Head Coach of Cardiff Blues in the summer of 2018, it signalled a new beginning to the relationship between the two sides.
Whether you see it as a first and second team, or just a professional side and a semi-professional side, it is undeniable that there is an arrangement in place that now works for the benefit of both teams.
When it comes to Academy players they are now being managed in a way that improves them as players, Cardiff RFC as a team and then, eventually, Cardiff Blues as a team.
Whereas beforehand a young player would be jettisoned around the Premiership, playing for Cardiff one week and then Pontypridd the next, with no real rhyme or reason to the decisions, they are now integrated as part of the Blue and Blacks squad for a whole season.
The likes of Teddy Williams, James Botham, Ben Thomas and Max Llewellyn have all played regularly for Cardiff RFC, especially the latter two who became important parts of last season’s Cup winning side.
Botham and Thomas are now making their marks in the Cardiff Blues side, having benefited from featuring regularly in the Premiership, and Cardiff RFC have benefited from having them develop within their ranks.
There is also an element of consistency with players going the other way, which can be difficult when Cardiff Blues availability isn’t always the same week-to-week, but the likes of Ethan Lewis, Macauley Cook, Lewis Jones and Dan Fish have all played as regularly as possible.
Those injections of professional quality as part of the squad, rather than being parachuted into a matchday 23, are big reasons why Cardiff RFC have been so successful recently, and why particularly the likes of Cook and Jones impress when stepping up to Cardiff Blues.
This season though we have seen a further development of the relationship, with players signing for Cardiff RFC but training full-time with Cardiff Blues with a view to potentially making the step up.
James Ratti is the prime example, having been registered with the Blue and Blacks after being released by the Ospreys last summer, he trained full-time at the Arms Park throughout pre-season and the early part of the summer.
After playing for Cardiff RFC throughout the first two months of the season he stepped up to make his Cardiff Blues debut against Calvisano, before impressing in starts against Benetton and Pau over the last two weeks.
Callum Bradbury has been registered as a Blue and Blacks player over the summer after his Academy deal came to an end, but has been training full-time at the Arms Park, while Teri Gee will train with Cardiff Blues after signing with Cardiff RFC last week.
With Cardiff Blues Academy coaches T Rhys Thomas and Gethin Jenkins also involved with Cardiff RFC, the relationship is closer than it’s ever been, and importantly it is not to the detriment of either side. Quite the opposite in fact.
Long may it continue!