It’s almost certainly dangerous to take to the keyboard in the current circumstances but after today’s game, coming on the back of last week, I feel as if I need to for my own sanity.
Cardiff’s second half capitulation at the Arms Park against the Scarlets was one of the worst 40 minutes of rugby I’ve witnessed, and that’s a lofty accolade considering the amount of rugby I’ve watched and the performances of the Blue and Blacks over the last 10 years.
It was being nil’d away at Sale and Connacht on steroids. To cave that spectacularly in a Welsh derby is so embarrassing you almost think it must have been done deliberately. From an opening 20 minutes of some sharp attack and a few physical defensive sets, to literally looking like lost little boys in a Lads v Dads encounter.
The result ends any Cardiff hope of achieving anything in the United Rugby Championship this season, with the play-offs already a pipe dream and now qualification for the Heineken Champions Cup through the Welsh Shield pretty much an impossibility. Add to that an away trip to Saracens in the European Challenge Cup round of 16 next week and the season is over.
It’s the culmination of four years of gradual decline for the Blue and Blacks, from the point that Danny Wilson departed after Bilbao to now where we’re experiencing a level below mediocrity. For that there is blame right across the board at the Arms Park.
Senior management seems very stale and introspective. The platform for a positive organisational culture should be set at the top allowing everything underneath it to thrive, but good leadership, strong communication and a clear direction of travel is totally missing.
On the business side the switch to properly being Cardiff and agreeing a new Arms Park lease took a worryingly long amount of time, with neither completely achieved, while in a rugby sense there’s been no grasp of recruitment strategy or general playing identity for so many years. How long have the squad had exactly the same shortfalls? It must be a decade now.
Of course there are bigger structural elements that are wrong in Welsh rugby as a whole that aren’t entirely in the hands of the club’s board, and credit where it’s due for navigating the covid period, but there’s a real sense that change is needed at the top to switch from surviving to thriving in areas we can control.
On to the coaches and it’s once again a story of staleness. Assistant coaches that have worked within the development pathway and been promoted are a feel good story, but when that’s pretty much your entire ticket and they struggle to deal with the challenges of top level professional rugby then it’s time to look outside the bubble in order to improve.
According to the URC official website stats we have the third worst defence and the fourth worst lineout. Against the Scarlets over the last two weeks it would be an insult to the Welsh Premiership to call those two areas of the game semi-professional. They have disintegrated in such a fashion it makes you wonder what the coaches get up to during the week.
In terms of the head coach/director of rugby, Dai Young has to take some blame. He’s been in post just over a year now and there’s been little improvement in terms of our technical skills or in terms of our general character, but that leads me on to my main point and final area of staleness; the players.
There have been a few comments today that Cardiff have not improved or even regressed under Young, so he should go as John Mulvihill got the boot for similar. That, for me, misses the point. The playing squad is, for all intents and purposes, the same as it was under the Australian for the preceding two-and-a-half years, yet two men have been in charge and not achieved anything of note.
This points serious questions at the quality and personality of the players.
Young this week noted that the vast majority of the squad are contracted until the summer of 2023 after signing deals during that initial part of the pandemic which saw them sign on for longer periods in return for wage cuts, but challenged them to prove over the next six months why they should get new contracts beyond that.
To answer that with the second half performance at the Arms Park today spoke volumes to my mind about the level that some of the players are capable of performing at and the character they have to react a challenge and prove themselves. It was shameful quite frankly, devoid of skill, commitment, passion, leadership and generally any element of personal pride.
There were one or two exceptions, I thought Theo Cabango was a shining light in a pile of shite, for example, but on the whole there were a few players in Blue and Black today that I wouldn’t select in a Rags side at the moment, let alone what should have been a full blooded Welsh derby.
A lot of the players have been at the club for approaching seven or eight years now. They seem to get along off the field, but are happy to settle for mediocrity on it. With the exception of Josh Turnbull nobody openly drives standards, it’s very pally and social rather than being serious and challenging. From the outside looking in it gives the impression of a group of mates having a laugh rather than a top level professional sporting environment.
Cardiff need a root and branch review, led from outside the cabal, and backed up by funding that allows Young to properly re-shape the rugby department. Until he is allowed to properly get to grips with players and coaches sitting comfortably on long-term contracts that they don’t deserve to have then the slide from mediocrity to the wilderness of consistent heavy losses will continue.
At the same time supporters will start to vote with their feet as the current outlook is bleak. This same group of players, coached by the same coaching ticket, overseen by the same senior management, are going backwards and fast. If there aren’t significant changes and quickly then season ticket sales for 2022/23 will be scarily low.
It’s as stale as stale can be. Time to install some mirrors at the Arms Park and ask people to take a long, hard look into them. If they can’t see a backbone then they can show themselves out.