2022: The Last Dance?

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If the demise of Welsh professional club rugby is as imminent as it seems, then 2022 seems a particularly fitting year to go out on from a Cardiff Rugby Club perspective.

It’s been tense in board rooms, some desperate lows and glorious highs on the pitch, young players establishing themselves as future stars, experienced players writing their names among club heroes, and all sprinkled with some weather and pandemic chaos just for fun.

Rewind to the start of the year and the Blue and Blacks were still reeling from the effects of the travel debacle that saw the squad stuck in South Africa for two weeks at the end of 2021. In many respects the season was starting all over again as fitness was regained while the stands were empty as a brief lockdown was in place due to the omicron variant of covid.

That did allow a certain freedom though as after a trip to Edinburgh that was essentially a pre-season friendly, performances against Harlequins and Leinster produced results that belied how the campaign was going. Only a late game management failure against the English side saw a victory slip away, before lessons were learned to secure a great win over the Irish side as crowds returned.

However, momentum was short lived as games against Toulouse (covid) and Zebre (weather) fell by the wayside, meaning it was another five-week break for Cardiff ahead of what would become a mammoth block of 12 straight games to the end of the season.

It was a run that underlined how the pauses to the campaign had impacted match fitness and training paddock time, but also raised questions around attitude and commitment, as the Blue and Blacks won just three games in a run that included five straight losses and some heavy defeats, not least at the hands of the Scarlets in an April double header.

There was also an element of off-field distraction on a Welsh rugby political level too as the three independent professional clubs and the Welsh Rugby Union attempted to thrash out a new financial deal that would cover beyond just the immediate future, but managed to fail on that front across the year.

Cash flow problems, being unable to set wage budgets, contract confusion, missed signings and player departures were a theme of 2022 having a huge impact on particularly players and coaches who were left not knowing if they had a job in just a few months time. A verbal agreement was announced by December, but if the years as a whole is anything to go by it’s about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Back to the on-field action though and while the first team were floundering the Rags were roaring. In the first season back post-covid the format was slightly flipped with a Cup competition covering the first half of the season, but the league kicked in from January and Steve Law’s men were determined to make up for having the Premiership title stolen from their clutches in March 2020.

Losses at the hands of Carmarthen and Newport threatened to derail the road to glory, but four straight bonus point wins to end the season ensured the Black and Ambers were jumped at the top of the table and Morgan Allen lifted the trophy after a wait of over two years.

Both campaigns finishing by mid-May meant it was a long old summer for the Arms Park faithful, but while there was plenty to reflect on from 2021/22, somehow that optimism that always rears it’s head ahead of a new season managed to resurface as big name signings Lopeti Timani, Taulupe Faletau and Liam Williams joined the first team ranks, and the Rags strengthened with the experience of Marc Thomas and Scott Andrews alongside the exciting young talent of Joe Goodchild and Dewi Cross.

Dai Young’s men suffered a tricky start to the season with what appeared to be a false dawn win over a much-changed Munster after two tough losses against Glasgow and Lions, but after some embarrassing off-field shenanigans in a local pub compounded disappointment around off-field behaviour from earlier in the year it seemed a shift in mentality took place at the Arms Park.

Back-to-back derby wins over Scarlets and Dragons preceded a superb win at home against reigning United Rugby Championship champions Stormers. All-in-all it has been seven wins in nine games across all competitions to end the year for the Blue and Blacks, seeing us sit fifth in the table and be all but qualified for the European Challenge Cup knockout rounds.

Alongside that the Rags started the new season in the same way they ended the last, by hammering all who stood in their way. Nine straight victories saw Spot’s men storm to the top of the Indigo Group Premiership and finish the calendar year nine points clear of the chasing pack thanks in-part to yet another double over Pontypridd.

So while we still wait for white smoke from the Professional Rugby Board, we wait for news of an Arms Park redevelopment from Cardiff Athletic Club, and we wait to discover if anyone can defend a Jarrod Evans pump fake, the Blue and Blacks keeps on pounding on the pitch.

Whether it’s the Rags constantly sweeping away those who appear before them, or the first team putting their backs up against the wall and taking on a siege mentality, the results have seen the calendar year come to an end in a positive way even if the future looks bleak all around.

Long live Cardiff Rugby!

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