It’s four days on and as the dust settles the simple fact still remains; Cardiff’s 69-21 loss away at Benetton on Friday night was one of the most embarrassing in the history of the club.
Statistically it’s the Blue and Blacks’ heaviest league defeat across the many iterations of the United Rugby Championship, it’s the most points conceded in a single game since a 25-75 loss to Biarritz in January 2003, and caps off a season that has seen us finish with the worst league game win percentage since 2014/15.
More than that though, the manner of the loss was unacceptable. The numbers are bad, but the distinct lack of effort from so early on in the game, and what was essentially just a surrender from some Cardiff players on that field in the final quarter, takes the defeat into a whole new stratosphere of embarrassing. Results like the 24-0 at Sale or the 29-0 in Connacht are remembered because of the low quality, but this game in Treviso will be burned into the memory because of that completely missing desire to compete.
There are some points to be made around the disjointed nature of the season, and that Friday’s fixture was the last in a run of 13 games in as many weeks. Tired minds and heavy legs were perhaps expected later in the game, but the result was almost a foregone conclusion by the halfway point of the first half as Benetton scored three tries in nine minutes.
It all ends up with Cardiff supporters pondering the question of “what now?” heading into an off-season where the problems are piling up and the solutions are hard to come by.
Going through each of the issues that Dai Young and Richard Holland need to remedy ahead of the 2022/23 campaign one-by-one would be far too numerous for one blog. It would make War and Peace look like the Blue and Blacks’ lineout manual. Instead I’ll take a few weeks to take a look at squad building, the lack of leadership in the squad, an assistant coach overhaul, our conditioning level and the culture at the Arms Park, amongst other things.
For now though I will say that for all the talk of change that needs to be implemented at the club to be successful, and we can be successful again in a relatively short period of time with the right alterations, I don’t see any value in parting from Young as Director of Rugby.
There are those who will question his coaching and his man management over the last few weeks, and rightly so. In fact at some point in the near future I’ll put into a blog what I’ve been tweeting about a lot recently in regards to how I feel that the team selections have been all wrong particularly since the Ospreys game, and even before that to an extent.
However, when push comes to shove around 65% of the senior squad this season have been at the club for four or more years as we’ve slipped from the heights of Bilbao to the depths of Treviso, while every assistant coach was at the club in 2018 either in first team or Academy roles, although Matt Sherratt has been away for a few years.
To my mind there’s no point replacing the man at the top of the rugby department when the personnel below that are essentially the same. That is for three reasons; there’s no evidence that any new Director of Rugby could come in and make a material difference with the tools at his disposal, who could we afford that would be able to make a difference, and who would want to try and make a difference?
Young may not be everyone’s cup of tea coaching-wise, and there are valid questions about his ability to maintain success at the club he is in charge of, but he does have a good track record of building competitive squads; the 2007-2011 Cardiff squad that won the Anglo-Welsh and Challenge Cups, and reached a Heineken Cup semi-final, and the 2015-2018 Wasps squad that also reached a Heineken Cup semi-final, topped the Gallagher Premiership and came third the following campaign.
He must now be given time to do the same in his second stint at the Arms Park, and the club’s senior management are fully behind him in his bid to do so.
Friday night’s debacle closed the door on what was a thoroughly disappointing season but that’s for the players and coaches to dwell on for a few weeks, have a long, hard look in the mirror and decide if they have enough personal and professional pride to return for pre-season and put things right individually.
Meanwhile as a supporter I feel it’s time to move on and look at solutions that will enact the change we need to put the club back on it’s feet.