This week is the final week of “Cardiff Blues” as the club prepares to drop the colour moniker and embrace the heritage as “Cardiff Rugby” from the 1st August.
Since re-branding in 2003 it’s been a fairly turmoil filled 18 years with some incredible highs and some desperate lows, but while some would rather forget that it happened as we now return to properly being the club founded in 1876, there is plenty to look back on from this chapter of the history.
We start with the players and it’s fair to say that we’ve had some superb talents pull the jersey on during the Blues era, from homegrown stars, to top class internationals and even one of the most famous faces in the history of rugby union.
I want to focus on the homegrown stars to start with, as the Cardiff Blues Academy has churned out a serious amount of talent over the last 18 years, with countless Wales internationals coming through the ranks and five British and Irish Lions starting out their careers at the club.
Of course it’s difficult to start anywhere other than back row when considering players who’ve burst on to the scene at the Arms Park since 2003, with some incredible flankers in particular making their mark at club and country level.
Shane Lewis-Hughes, Josh Navidi, Ellis Jenkins, Luke Hamilton, Thomas Young, James Botham and, of course, Sam Warburton have all graduated the Academy and gone on to have strong club careers, won international honours and even double captained the Lions.
Back three has also been a position of strength during this era with Chris Czekaj, Harry Robinson, Tom James, Alex Cuthbert, Leigh Halfpenny and Owen Lane burning up either the turf or the plastic, depending on age!
It all leads to a very strong looking Cardiff Blues homegrown XV, and with a number of the players still in the current squad, the future of Academy talent in the first team at the Arms Park looks good.
Cardiff Blues homegrown XV: Leigh Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert, Cory Allen, Jamie Roberts, Tom James, Jarrod Evans, Lloyd Williams; Rhys Gill, Kris Dacey, Scott Andrews, Bradley Davies, Cory Hill, Ellis Jenkins, Sam Warburton, Josh Navidi
What many would point to as crucial when it comes to success as Cardiff Blues though is what complimented that homegrown conveyor belt; the overseas quality that we brought in.
Now there have been some interesting additions in this category it’s fair to say. Who can forget the Romanian prop Paetru Tamba, centre Isaiah “the Iceman” Tuifua, and Fijian winger Mosese Luveitasau, among the many cult heroes who struggled to make their mark on the field.
Overall though the success stories more than outweigh the misfires and when you look down the squads on the three trophy winning days as the Blues, there are key names that stand out down the spine of all three teams; Paul Tito, Ma’ama Molitika, Olly Robinson, Nick Williams, Xavier Rush, Jason Spice, Willis Halaholo, Rey Lee-Lo, Casey Laulala, Blaine Scully, Ben Blair and, of course, the ever present Taufa’ao Filise.
Plenty have made their mark outside of Final rugby as well, with the likes of Dan Baugh, Robin Copeland and even the great Jonah Lomu stepping through the Gwyn Nicholls gates, with the impact of many being felt not only on the pitch but off it, as they became key components in creating a good culture at the club and cultivating relationships with supporters that stand the test of time.
Cardiff Blues overseas XV: Ben Blair, Blaine Scully, Casey Laulala, Rey Lee-Lo, Jonah Lomu, Dan Parks, Jason Spice; Ken Fourie, Andy Kyriacou, Taufa’ao Filise, Michael Paterson, Paul Tito, Ma’ama Molitika, Dan Baugh, Xavier Rush
When you combine the two XVs I’ve put together in this piece it is no wonder that Cardiff Blues achieved the success we did over the last 18 years and, especially considering the calibre of players not included, or even those eligible as Welsh players who were either already at the club in 2003 or who were signed from elsewhere subsequently, it is perhaps a wonder we did not achieve more.
Overall though it is a chapter of our history that has continued the tradition of some of the best players in the world pulling on a Cardiff jersey at the Arms Park, and we have been very lucky as supporters to witness them live. Long may that continue!