Cardiff Blues’ permanent move to Pentwyn, as a new facility is put together on the site of the current leisure centre, is a massive statement for the club and the local community.
The proposal, passed by Cardiff Council’s cabinet in recent weeks, will withdraw the leisure centre from the contract that GLL/Better Cardiff have to run council-owned leisure centres in the city, invest close to £5m in refurbishing the building and combine a high performance training centre with a community leisure facility run by Cardiff Blues.
From a Cardiff Blues point of view this makes a huge amount of sense as a professional rugby club. All over Europe sides are battling to raise the standard of training and playing facilities to drive themselves into the 21st Century. We might not rival Bristol or Toulon, but we can certainly close the gap.
With a dedicated grass pitch being installed alongside a full-size artificial pitch and a mini artificial pitch outdoors, and a fully fitted out gym, medical facilities, analysis rooms, office space and team rooms indoors it will be a high performance centre fitting of a side that wants to be playing in the Heineken Champions Cup and reaching Guinness Pro14 play-offs year-in, year-out.
There is also the business aspect, as the building is also set to house a 25 metre swimming pool, a sports hall, a cross-fit gym, community rooms and a catering outlet that can be run as a profitable business if it is managed correctly. Any extra income generated from that will be very welcome indeed.
Perhaps the most exciting element though is how the move will bring the club closer to the community in Cardiff, placing us right at the heart of an area of the city that hasn’t seen much interaction in rugby terms in the last 20 years.
I’ve written previously about how the Pro14 switching almost entirely to subscription television meant that there was extra importance on the excellent work that the community foundation do in engaging with youngsters around South Wales to increase the visibility of Cardiff Rugby and push them in the direction of the Arms Park.
Now the opportunity exists not to take the club to these children, but to invite the children into the club, inviting schools in the area around central and north Cardiff to the new training centre at Pentwyn to watch training, show them the facility and even get them involved in some activities with the players.
Growing up in Pentwyn, going to St David’s Primary right across the road from the leisure centre, rugby was just not on my radar at all. There were no rugby pitches in or around the Pontprennau/Pentwyn/Llanedeyrn area, with the majority of sports interested youngsters in the area playing football in the council facilities, for local junior clubs or just in the street.
With eight primary schools across those three areas there is a huge number of children to engage in a scheme to invite them down to training, offer them a ticket to a game and then hope they stay and bring parents, family or other friends with them regularly, before expanding across the capital as we begin to properly embrace our history as the capital city club.
As we grow our representation in the international side and players like Rhys Carre, Tomos Williams, Willis Halaholo and Owen Lane go from club level players to Wales stars, local kids seeing them training up close and personal will be a huge draw and may ensure they want to watch them play week-in, week-out.
I’ve no doubt the community foundation will increase their already superb offering to take full advantage of this new location right at the heart of communities that perhaps don’t feel that connection with rugby or Cardiff Blues, and get the whole city behind our rugby team as we strive to return to the regular successes of years gone by.
The facility itself will play a huge role in that, with Dai Young talking last week about how the quality of our conditioning and training can be the key to getting an extra 10% out of this squad, and operating in top quality facilities day-in, day-out will drive a higher performance culture through the club.
Things are looking promising!