With the summer international tours still ongoing it was difficult to get heads around the fact that at the Arms Park the Cardiff players were returning for pre-season training already.
After a disappointing end to the 2021/22 campaign though, getting back in for training earlier than most was to be expected for the Blue and Blacks on the basis that their season finished much earlier than many other sides and there were many areas of improvement required if the squad was going to improve heading into the new year.
Of course it doesn’t take an expert to pinpoint areas that Cardiff need to work on both on and off the field, even I was able to spot a few and write about them after last season had come to a close, but the particularly concerning thing was that many of the issues were exacerbated problems that had been simmering under the surface for some time.
As far back as the summer of 2019 I have been among those calling for a shift in focus from the Blue and Blacks away from fruitlessly attempting to match the physicality of teams with bigger and more powerful tight fives than us, and towards a higher tempo and more expansive/skilful brand of rugby that brings pressure in defence and plays through opposition sides in attack rather than bouncing off them.
That summer, where the pre-season period was probably the longest we’re ever likely to see because of the World Cup, still represents a missed opportunity but on the other side of covid it looked like lost time was starting to be made up for as the 2021 Rainbow Cup campaign was followed up by a 2021/22 pre-season campaign where Cardiff played rugby that resembled what the blueprint needs to be.
However, the second half of the last campaign, especially the run from mid-March to the season drawing to a close in May, was littered with evidence of poor conditioning and a low base level of skills. The defence was non-existent at times, the attack haphazard at best, and the lineout sometimes too shambolic to call it amateur.
Long periods without a game earlier in the year, stints of covid isolations and a run of 12 games on consecutive weekends were all pointed at as reasons for those issues, but all they did were magnify existing problems rather than create new ones.
Now though there are signs of encouragement as Cardiff released an excellent montage-style video from the first block of pre-season training that suggested fixes for some of the major problems were being addressed as the Blue and Blacks build towards 2022/23.
Head of Physical Performance Trystan Bevan spoke about “integrating rugby into our pre-season programme early this year, making sure we get the ball in hand”, with club captain Josh Turnbull adding “we’ve got the the skills under pressure, as you’d get in games, and we’ve got the match stimulus in there. Bringing in elements of what we’ll experience in games at this point is vital”.
The hope must be that killing two birds with one stone, i.e combining rugby skills and game scenarios with intense fitness training, gives us a better chance of playing that relentlessly fast style of rugby for 80 minutes with greatly improved accuracy.
Additionally there were also encouraging noises around building a positive squad culture after a first summer of upheaval as Dai Young begins to put his stamp on the squad at the Arms Park, with sessions done at Porthcawl and Barry Island beaches, on Cardiff Bay’s aqua park and on Pontcanna Fields to get players together in different environments and bonding as a group.
I’ll leave the last words to JT – “we were all disappointed with how last season finished, and how last season went overall, and we don’t want that to happen again”. Quite right too!