Cardiff Blues brought our 2020/21 Guinness Pro14 campaign to a close last week as a bonus point win over Edinburgh confirmed fourth place in Conference B for Dai Young’s men.
In this year of turmoil it was an equally bizarre and upside down season in the Welsh capital with a late start, temporary home ground, long international windows and coaching changes over the course of just 16 games with this year being cut short in an attempt to fit a competition with the South Africans in across April, May and June.
Results-wise for Cardiff Blues it was largely a mixed bag, with a telling statistic after the second fixture with the Scarlets being that we had won five out of six fixtures outside the international window as opposed to one win in six games during the international window.
Of course there’s budgetary reasons behind that, in terms of developing squad strength in depth, but this is where the evolution starts for us in the season just gone as there were certainly areas where we could improve quality during these windows and we made a big leap towards doing that in October and November.
From roughly the point of the loss away to Edinburgh onwards there was a noticeable shift in focus from squad members with a little more experience but perhaps a lower talent ceiling, towards players with a higher talent ceiling but on the younger or more inexperienced side.
Iestyn Harris, Theo Bevacqua, Teddy Williams, Gwilym Bradley, Jamie Hill and Luke Scully have all made their debuts during the 2020/21 campaign, while Keiron Assiratti, Ben Murphy, Alun Lawrence, Ben Thomas and Max Llewellyn have all seen their game time greatly improve as faith was put in the next generation rather than trying to wring as much as possible out of the existing senior squad.
There have been moments where that inexperience has shown through, which is to be expected, but that is something which can be learned from as they grow into senior players. Overall though the performances levels have not decreased and have largely increased as we’ve made that evolution in the squad profile.
That has gone hand-in-hand with the evolution in the coaching setup as John Mulvihill moved on after the New Year’s Day defeat the hands of Ospreys, with David Young returning as interim Director of Rugby.
Mulvihill may not have quite got the results he was after scoreboard-wise, but he certainly achieved the goal he was brought in for to bring through that next generation of stars at the Arms Park, and as we returned to our historic home in 2021 Young arrived to take us forward into a crucial final three months of the season.
The wins over the Scarlets showed off everything that is good about this Cardiff Blues squad when the majority of players are available, before the Connacht and Munster losses were big learning curves that were taken on board well by the young players under the guidance of Dai to ensure important bonus point victories over Benetton and Edinburgh.
What that fourth place finish means for next season remains to be seen, but Cardiff are now in a great position to kick on after 2020/21 with a younger age profile to the squad and an abundance of talent that will only get better over the next few years, sprinkled with excellent senior professionals and the international stars set to be available more in the league.
It’s the hope that kills you usually, but it feels like the rugby department at the Arms Park turned a major corner during the recent campaign, and as off-field elements of a training base and the club branding begin to fall into place, we might actually be ready to enjoy some on-field success once again. Come on Cardiff!