Goodbye Blues: The Coaches

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There’s not always been a lot that you can say has been pleasing about the Cardiff Blues over the last 18 years, but there is a pleasing circulatory to our coaching journey in that time.

Dai Young was the man in charge when we re-branded the first time from Cardiff RFC to Cardiff Blues, having taken over as head coach, as he was back then, in the summer of 2002, and now he leads us on the return to journey as we become Cardiff Rugby next week.

His first tenure was certainly the most successful in this era of the club’s history, as the former tighthead prop guided us to two Celtic League runner-up spots, and won two of our three trophies with the EDF Energy Cup success in 2009 and the Amlin Challenge Cup victory in 2010, before departing for Wasps in 2011.

Young built what for many was their favourite squad since 2003 as he combined senior Welsh experience of John Yapp, Gethin Jenkins, T Rhys Thomas, Gareth Williams, Deiniol Jones, Andy Powell, Martyn Williams, Richie Rees, Nicky Robinson, Tom Shanklin and Chris Czekaj, with superb overseas talents Fa’ao Filise, Paul Tito, Ma’ama Molitika, Xavier Rush, Casey Laulala and Ben Blair.

With a few promising stars of the future in the form of Bradley Davies, Sam Warburton, Jamie Roberts, Tom James and Leigh Halfpenny it was as well-balanced, high quality and crucially deep squad that we’ve seen at the Arms Park in the last 18 years, and some may well even say it didn’t achieve quite as much as it could or should have.

What is undoubted though is that it produced some of the best performances we have seen, with the two Final wins based on Young’s coaching of a pack that was completely dominant over Gloucester and more than matched up with the star-studded Toulon, allowing the backs to express themselves in a way that showed off all their talent.

In the intervening nine-and-a-half-years between Dai’s departure and return it has largely been a story of disappointment. Disappointment with the decisions made by senior management, disappointment with how some appointments turned out, and disappointment over the downright bad luck that some suffered during their spells in the hot seat.

Justin Burnell and Gareth Baber were never afforded the opportunity to try and re-shape the ageing and departing squad left by Young, while Phil Davies could not make the most of a talented crop of youngsters coming through the Academy, instead focusing on a more pragmatic style of play that suited neither the players at his disposable or the way Cardiff historically played.

The brief Mark Hammett era was an interesting one as his appointment appeared to be a positive one with his CV, but man management was unfortunately not on his list of skills as he got on the wrong side of the senior players and then departed for family reasons.

Caretaker spells for Dale McIntosh and Paul John either side of Hammett were never likely to be more than temporary, although they did spawn some impressive derby wins, before success would return as Danny Wilson took over the reigns in the summer of 2015.

Having taken a season to assess the squad during an interrupted World Cup campaign he totally revamped the squad the following summer, and although that second year was a disappointing one the final year was one we’ll never forget as, like Young before him, he focused on the forwards and got the most out of the pack he had to help the team win 11 of 13 games in the second half of 2017/18 and win the European Challenge Cup in Bilbao.

Unfortunately off-field politics saw Wilson’s departure immediately following that triumph and history repeated itself in a way as John Mulvihill picked up a squad that saw a number of senior players depart in the way Burnell and Baber had, before struggling to get the most out of the young players who came through the system in their place.

In the end then it has fallen to Young once again, back in January as director of rugby, to try and get that forward pack firing. The signs were good during the Rainbow Cup, and as we return to being properly Cardiff the style of play we want to see can take us to success again.

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