Recruitment, not radical change, is the answer

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So here we are again, another Sunday blog post after an abject Cardiff Blues showing on a Saturday. One came after Munster at home, one came after Leicester at home and now one comes after Connacht away.

Poor performances are not new to the Arms Park faithful, we’ve seen plenty of them down the years, but there hasn’t been a recent campaign where we’ve had quite as many poor performances as this one, costing us a chance to progress in the European Challenge Cup and close to missing out on the Guinness Pro14 play-offs.

The danger in this circumstance is to overreact and start calling for heads left, right and centre. I personally do not see any sense in any sort of wholesale clear out of the coaching staff at this point.

Now I’ve got no loyalty to John Mulvihill. I’ve had one or two short conversations with him, but aside from that I don’t know him at all and I’ve supported professional sports teams for long enough to know that keeping players or coaches on just because you like them is not a sustainable model.

However, I think there’s two main reasons why removing Mulvihill would not answer any of our current problems; the lack of a viable replacement and the inability of the Australian to shape the rugby department.

On the first point we saw when appointing Mulvihill the difficulty in attracting coaches to take on the role, between the lack of funds available and the meddling of the Welsh Rugby Union in the decision.

John Mulvihill

The appointment of Geordan Murphy was blocked by the WRU and then a move for Jim Mallinder didn’t materialise when he turned down the role based on what he would have to work with. With little change between now and then there’s no evidence to suggest we could improve on our current coaching situation.

For me the second point is the really key one though; there’s still a real feeling that this is not the rugby department that John Mulvihill wants to be leading.

Starting with who he is working with and, despite public statements to the contrary, it is becoming increasingly clear that the assistants he selected when he arrived at Cardiff Blues in the summer of 2018 were not entirely his choice.

By that I don’t mean they were chosen for him or allocated to him, but that the pool of coaches he had to pick them from was not the biggest. Jason Strange has already departed due to this and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see one or two others head for the exit this summer, with serious pressure on forwards coach Tom Smith.

Then looking at the squad and there’s been no real chance for Mulvihill to put his mark on the playing staff since he arrived.

Due to his late appointment in 2018 he largely missed the recruitment window for the 2018/19 season, managing to pick one or two late signings but, like the coaches, selecting from a small pool of available players, and then last season Project Reset denied him the chance to overhaul the squad.

As comparisons between the Mulvihill and Danny Wilson eras seem to be in fashion this weekend, Danny totally changed the squad in his first season in charge. More than 20 players departed in the summer of 2016, with seven good quality arrivals adding plenty to the Arms Park, five of whom are still key players now.

danny-wilson-llanelli

The accusation is that we have gone backwards since Wilson left, and the truth is that we have, but the squad has got worse with no chance to improve it and the loss of Rhys Carre, Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Sam Warburton and Gareth Anscombe, as well as the lengthy injury to Ellis Jenkins.

Mulvihill has not properly had the opportunity to sign or move players on. Do I think he wanted to re-sign all of Kirby Myhill, Liam Belcher and Ethan Lewis? No. Do I think he wanted to sign Rory Thornton, Filo Paulo and keep hold of James Down? No. Do I think he wanted to sign Jason Tovey? No.

Many were necessary though as to release or not sign them would leave us desperately short of bodies in their positions. This summer I think we’ll see a big difference though, with Sam Moore and Luke Scully already signed, others on the way and a number of players likely to be heading for pastures new.

That’s not to say that Mulvihill is totally absolved of blame for some of our current performances though. His team selections could certainly be braver, the lack of consistency is a concern and there is a lack of obvious upskilling.

Seeing more of the likes of Corey Domachowski, James Ratti and James Botham would be a positive, having a proper look at Ben Thomas in the outside-half position is an exciting prospect, while bringing through the likes of Jamie Hill and Ioan Davies is something that should be looked at.

There are short-term fixes available, but until we complete this season’s chance at a full recruitment window and deal with the glaring lack of quality in certain areas of the squad, then calling for radical coaching changes won’t be the answer.

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