Cardiff RFC’s 2021/22 Indigo Group Premiership title win was a fine and deserved way to end an excellent season for the Rags, putting to bed the pain of covid stealing away the 2019/20 crown.
If you were to rewind to the end of March you would find the Blue and Blacks smarting from back-to-back defeats at the hands of Newport, each of which helped our old rivals put their hand on a different trophy as they went 12 points clear at the top of the league and progressed to the cup final, dumping us out of that competition at Sardis Road.
However, while the Black and Ambers would go on to win at the Principality Stadium, their injury list would start to impact their league form and, as champions do, Cardiff were on hand to take advantage. Four bonus point wins in a row, on the road at Llandovery and Swansea before big home derby wins over Pontypridd and Merthyr, were an incredible return to form.
There was also something in the manner of those wins that summed up why this group of players and coaches has been so special this season, not being impacted by how tense that point of the campaign was and continuing to play exciting and attractive fast-paced expansive rugby, while also ferociously defending commanding leads against Ponty and Merthyr late on in those games.
In the end lifting the Premiership trophy was a fitting reward for the work that goes in on, and crucially off-the-field, with the committee and volunteers putting so many unseen hours into ensuring the Blue and Blacks can function every weekend, as well as for the supporters who travel across South Wales to get behind the team.
The truth though is that the league win is just the cherry on top of the cake that was already a successful campaign for the Rags, the first since becoming properly re-aligned as Cardiff Rugby Club’s 2nd XV with a development brief alongside being successful on the pitch.
All-in-all there were 20 members of the Cardiff Academy that had regular opportunities to play, many experiencing senior rugby for the first time, while seven young professionals on the fringe of the first team were also able to continue their development, alongside some of the best players in the semi-professional scene in Wales.
The major benefit of keeping that group together is they not only develop as individuals but as partnerships in their position groups. Theo Bevacqua, Efan Daniel and Will Davies-King as a front row, Teddy Williams and Rhys Anstey in the second row, Ryan Wilkins and Ioan Evans, and Max Llewellyn and Mason Grady in the centres, and Jacob Beetham and Theo Cabango in the back three all train together through the week and then put that work to good use on the weekend.
For the youngest players involved then, like back rower Mackenzie Martin, scrum-half Ethan Lloyd and centre Harrison James, they can learn from the likes of Morgan Allen, Tom Habberfield and Dan Fish at a key stage in their progression through the pathway.
Cardiff running the side as the Rags also allows Academy staff to look at potential additions to the development pathway, with Ryan Davies from Gwernyfed, as well as Tyler Olding and Brad Denty from Cardiff Met, all given opportunities in the Premiership or Premiership Cup this season, while semi-professional squad members such as Llyr Green, Sean Moore and Alex Everett could be candidates to step up to the professional ranks as young players that Academy systems either released or missed.
There will be those who are opposed to it; some just because Cardiff are successful, but others with points about talent hoarding resulting in lower quality opposition or players not being taken out of comfort zones. However the obvious counters, aside from the above points about developing as a group, are that the Rags set up should drive the quality of the league up altogether as opponents look to improve to compete, while the club have shown that those who need a new environment can be sent on loan to the English Championship if required.
As things stand the debate rages about what is the purpose of the Premiership, and what is the best way to achieve that purpose, but the Blue and Blacks have put forward a blueprint that fits the bill in terms of competitiveness and development, which is very difficult for anyone without an agenda to argue with when push comes to shove.
The trick for Cardiff will now be turning short-term success into a long-term benefit as these talented youngsters are managed through into the first team in a timely and effective manner, rather than just waiting for injury crises to get an opportunity, but after years of botching and relying on hope rather than process we are now starting to see a development pathway that gets the best out of the tools at its disposal.
Long may that continue, and long may the Rags win trophies!