They were a long time coming, but when the United Rugby Championship 2021/22 fixtures finally slid across Dai Young’s desk they may even have raised a smile from the Director of Rugby.
Well, at least the first five rounds.
Cardiff start the campaign with four out of our first five games at home, and the only away game being the short trip down the M4 to Swansea to face the Ospreys. We don’t have to leave Wales until two months into the season, with four of the five games being Saturday evening kick-offs, offering a chance for real consistency.
Connacht in round one with the majority of our internationals available provides the opportunity to lay down a real marker with a win against a side who we have finished just below in the table in each of the last three years, heading into a huge clash with the Ospreys who have recruited very well going into Toby Booth’s second season in charge.
Then rounds three and four see the Bulls and Sharks play their first games in Wales as they visit the Arms Park on Saturday nights in October, likely without their South African international players, with the chance to catch them literally cold as they adapt to Northern Hemisphere competition.
Finally, the Dragons make the short trip across to the capital in round five for a clash that will see both teams missing any players called up to the Wales squad to face New Zealand the following week, making it a test of strength in depth that should see Cardiff as the favourites going into the fixture.
It’s a run of games that gives the Blue and Blacks the best possible chance to start the season fast and send a message to the rest of the league, but it’s important we do that as the momentum will be key through a tough second block after the Autumn Internationals.
Assuming coronavirus travel restrictions allow, there are back-to-back games in South Africa immediately following the Autumn Internationals going straight into the first two Heineken Champions Cup pool games, then straight into two Welsh festive derbies, an away clash against Edinburgh, the final two Heineken Champions Cup pool games and then the visit of Leinster.
It’s a brutal run of 10 games in 10 weeks that will test every aspect of Dai Young’s squad, but it will be a lot easier if there’s a momentum and confidence about the team off the back of a strong first five results to get the campaign up and running.
Looking ahead to the second half of the season and there are opportunities to pick up results at home to Zebre during the Six Nations, home to Glasgow immediately following it, and then carry momentum into derbies against the Scarlets and Ospreys when the internationals return.
A lot hinges on that opening run of five games though, which appear to have fallen kindly for Cardiff. It doesn’t happen often, so when it does the chance has to be taken with both hands. If we get to the end of October with a few wins under our belt we will be in great shape.