The much anticipated and highly prestigious Rainbow Cup gets underway on Saturday as Cardiff Blues prepare to take on the great and good from far away lands such as Newport, Swansea and Llanelli.
For all the joking and dismissing of a competition that has been created solely to unlock South African participation and television money though, the three games do present David Young with a unique opportunity as he settles in for the long run at the Arms Park.
It is not often that an incoming Director of Rugby would get definitely three, and possibly six, “competitive” games with close to the whole squad available over a period of two months to assess his players, try out different tactical styles and start to implement behavioural changes, especially after three years of mediocrity.
There are plenty of changes that Young has already started to implement, with our forward play in the opposition 22 already noticeably tighter, our attacking breakdown play more effective and our ability to turn close games into wins picking up.
One area that still needs to be looked at, one which John Mulvihill was never able to crack during his two-and-a-half years at the helm, is consistency, but that might not be for now. The pragmatic approach to team selection over the next two months probably sees Young largely select his best players but mixed in with one or two fringe players getting an opportunity and one or two talented youngster gaining experience.
Instead what I would like to see from Cardiff Blues against all three Welsh sides over the next three games is an element of controlling proceedings.
Let’s not start slowly as we did against Benetton and Edinburgh in the final stages of the Guinness Pro14 season, or struggle to clear our lines and end up camped in our own 22 as we did during October and November, or fail to make sensible game management decisions as we did in the second half against London Irish.
I want to see Cardiff coming out of the traps well and trying to move the ball well in the early exchanges, catching the opposition defence napping, not conceding cheap turnovers, piling the pressure on and getting the scoreboard ticking early.
This should not be a problem considering the generally good weather that should be expected throughout April, May and possibly June, but from there the real test will be how we compete in a kicking battle and make smart game management decisions that ensure we dominate possession and, crucially, territory.
We don’t always have the biggest kicking range out of hand from our half-backs, with neither Tomos Williams or Jarrod Evans particularly known for their booming right foots, but perhaps this is the opportunity to try out utilising others as the defensive and tactical kicking options. Matthew Morgan, Hallam Amos, Josh Adams and Ben Thomas are all effective kicking from hand.
If we can add distance to our kicking game it will certainly help when exiting our 22 and during a back-and-forth battle with the opposition. With a better chase matching our defensive breakdown game then the chance is there to put pressure on that way, while improved game management decisions should see us able to find touch in the opposition half or 22 more frequently and then compete at the lineout.
All this presents opportunities for turnover ball, penalties or simply possession in the final third of the field which provides control over proceedings for Cardiff and potential for points scoring if we show the clinical edge that is aforementioned.
Should we stay in that level of control for the majority of the three games it will be a fixture block well spent for Young and his men, gaining a skill that we have all too regularly lacked in recent times, but could well be the difference between mediocrity and success for a Cardiff side that has set piece solidity, a defensive assuredness and attacking firepower.
As with the improved lineout, the defensive organisation and the red zone attack, once we prove to ourselves that we have those skills in our locker then the confidence grows and they quickly become a weapon. Here’s hoping the Rainbow Cup can do the same for our kicking and a game management.