In last week’s piece assessing the state of some elements of the Cardiff rugby department I concentrated heavily on the make-up of the squad and how the overly homegrown element of it has contributed to a poor culture and poor on-field performances at the Arms Park.
Generally my criticisms of the side’s form towards the end of the season has been player focused, with an overriding feeling that there is a lack of leadership within the squad and linked to that, although not exclusively, a lack of effort being shown on the pitch. Some of the capitulations and manner of the derby defeats were simply unacceptable.
However there is a requirement to look wider than that, and when I do so I see some similarities between the make-up of the coaching ticket and the playing group in terms of the length of time they’ve been at the club, an element of staleness and comfort in a role, the homegrown nature of it, and just generally the performance level.
Now as with a running theme throughout these pieces I don’t see Dai Young as totally avoiding blame in this element of the rugby department’s performance. When he returned as Director of Rugby the former tighthead was quite clear that he intended to be hands-on in terms of coaching on the training paddock, and beyond that the buck ultimately stops with him as the head of the coaching ticket.
Once again though I don’t see the value in getting rid of Young at this juncture because, as with the playing group, this coaching ticket has been together some time now, with much of it in place during the John Mulvihill era and throughout the gradual decline of the the last three years or so.
Richard Hodges has been in charge of the defence for five years now, for example, Duane Goodfield has been scrum coach for four years, and Richie Rees involved with the backs & attack for three years. All three were previously Academy coaches before being promoted to the first team coaching ticket, as was T Rhys Thomas who has been coaching the first team forwards for the last 15 months.
The other member of the assistant coaching staff is Matt Sherratt who returned to the club last summer having previously been attack coach between 2016 and 2018.
Individually they have had good spells as coaches at the club. Hodges’ defence was solid enough in 2018/19, Goodfield has taken the scrum from under-performing to generally average, Rees has worked hard to unpick the attack left behind by Jason Strange in 2019, Sherratt obviously got us playing some good rugby on the way to winning in Bilbao and Thomas has the poisoned chalice of the Cardiff lineout to turn around, as well as a clearly under-powered pack.
The issue though is two-fold; firstly, are any of the required calibre to take the Blue and Blacks from our current foot of the table languishing to competing for the play-offs and regularly qualifying for the Heineken Cup?
I’ve done a comparison before between Cardiff’s coaching staff and the Leinster coaching staff. Obviously there is a significant difference in budget there, but the approach too. Leinster have concentrated on getting quality in key positions so Stuart Lancaster, former England coach, heads up the ticket, Felipe Contepomi looks after the backs having previously worked with Argentina’s A team, and Robin McBryde is of course the Wales forwards coach from the Warren Gatland era.
They are quality coaches, but they also bring me on to my second point, which is the diversity of the ticket. Three coaches there all from outside the Leinster and Irish Rugby bubble, versus a coaching ticket of men pretty much all from squarely within the Cardiff Rugby bubble.
That mix of ideas, backgrounds, standards and experiences helps drive the culture in the dressing room and the performances on the field, and it’s that which doesn’t necessarily cost the earth, just relies on an approach that encourages outside thinking and influences rather than consistently being insular and shut off to the outside world.
As with the need to diversify the playing squad, there are good reasons behind having a coaching staff of largely local coaches, particularly in terms of improving our percentage of the PRB pot over the past few years, but if we are to kick on, improve the culture at the club and compete on-the-field then there is a requirement to look outside of our bubble.
If we continue to over-promote from within and continue to foster what increasingly looks like a “jobs for the boys” style approach to building a coaching staff, then I am concerned that we will struggle to recover from the hole that we have found ourselves in.
Dai Young has a lot of work to do in order to put his stamp on the coaching ticket over the next 12 months, and getting that right goes hand-in-hand with getting the balance of the playing squad right when it comes to how Cardiff Rugby tackle the following three years.