Dead rubber or point to prove?

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This week it was announced that the Guinness Pro14 was planning a return to action on the weekend of 22nd August with the aim of finishing the 2019/20 season in a truncated fashion.

Cardiff Blues will play two games across that and the following weekend, believed to be away to Scarlets and at ‘home’ to the Ospreys, but two decisions made by the league organisers have meant that for John Mulvihill’s there is nothing tangible at stake.

Firstly, the shortened version of the season continues into the knockout stages where, rather than six teams heading into the post-season there will be four in a more classic semi-final/final look to proceedings, meaning any slim chance of Cardiff Blues finally qualifying for the play-offs is over.

Of course it would have been a long shot requiring some Benetton losses to Zebre and Scarlets losing to Dragons (again), but at least it would have been something to aim for, just like the more achievable goal of Heineken Champions Cup qualification would have been.

That would have needed one Benetton slip up against Zebre and some help from Munster and Ulster against Connacht, but wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility to finish fourth or even slot in to fifth and argue we were more deserving of qualification than the Dragons based on league wins and league points.

Instead though the Pro14 will work European qualification on team positions after round 13, so as the table stands now, meaning Cardiff Blues being down in sixth will play in the Challenge Cup when the 2020/21 season gets underway in some shape or form.

So what to make of it all for John Mulvihill’s squad then? Well, on a literal basis the two games are dead rubbers. We could jump a few places up the table and try and finish the season with more wins than losses, but in terms of achieving anything or qualifying for something then there is no chance.

John Mulvihill

From a business perspective you could almost argue that it might be better to leave some of the higher earners in the side on the UK Government’s furlough scheme for a few more weeks and just blood some youngsters alongside giving fringe players a run in preparation for the international stars being unavailable for much of the following six months.

However, there is a bigger picture to consider. There’s the financial aspect of having more players in the Wales squad, and it’s fair to say that these two games may well double up as a two-week trial. Two strong performances may well earn a call-up for games in October and November, bringing with it some much needed money.

Then with such a short turnaround between the end of the 19/20 season and the proposed start of the 20/21 season at the beginning of October those good performances can hopefully build some momentum into what will be an important third season when it comes to the reign of John Mulvihill as head coach.

Most importantly though, two wins in August will allow us to be particularly snarky about the fact that European qualification was decided before the end of the season, possibly seeing us jump a position or two in Conference B and allowing us legitimate cause to throw some cheap digs in press conferences and on Twitter.

On a recent Cardiff Blues RE:LIVE, Andy Booth spoke about Alec Evans coming in and encouraging the return of the Cardiff hatred during the early 90s, and a good way of doing that in the modern game is proving a point like winning both of our remaining Pro14 games and then kicking up a fuss in the media.

This is exactly the sort of arrogant Cardiff Rugby behaviour that I can fully get on board with.

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