As another Six Nations fades into the background attention once again turns to the club season, with Cardiff kicking off a huge month of games in the United Rugby Championship and European Challenge Cup.
Despite all the off-field distractions caused both in-house and by the Welsh Rugby Union, the Blue and Blacks are actually in a very competitive position heading into the final fixture block of the campaign. A run of five wins in seven league games from mid-October to Boxing Day saw us quietly creep up the table, and the bonus point win over Benetton last month kept us within sight of the top eight and top of the Welsh Shield standings.
At the same time big bonus point wins over Newcastle twice and Brive secured a home Challenge Cup round of 16 tie against Sale Sharks for Dai Young’s men, an opportunity to enjoy a massive Anglo-Welsh clash under the lights at the Arms Park and push on in a competition which has given us some of our best times in recent years.
It’s an exciting few weeks, with that European clash and a possible deciding fixture against the Ospreys in the Principality Stadium at Judgement Day in the final round of URC action.
Unfortunately it’s set against the background of Welsh rugby at the moment where wage budgets are being slashed, professional clubs are being lumbered with big contracts of international stars, and players are left in limbo either not knowing if they have a job next season or are only able to be offered hugely reduced contracts in comparison to what they are currently on.
For this reason there is set to be fairly significant change to the Cardiff squad over the summer, with some players having already left, others been revealed as joining other clubs, and rumours still swirling about further departures.
There’s a real feeling of “The Last Dance” about this, whereby the Chicago Bulls went into the 1997/98 season knowing that their team was set to go through a huge amount of change at the end of the campaign, albeit without the five championships in the previous six years.
The large majority of this squad have been together pretty much since 2017, but particularly since 2019. It has won a second European Challenge Cup in Bilbao, competed in the Heineken Champions Cup twice, ridden out the covid-19 pandemic and overcome a seriously challenging 2021/22 season to put the Blue and Blacks back into some sort of competitive position this year.
With just four games across five weekends currently left of the season it presents an opportunity for this group to finish on a high, making all the trials and tribulations of recent weeks, months and and years worth it, and creating a lasting memory of their time at the club and as a squad.
There’s no doubt the motivation is there from a personal pride perspective, but it must also be there from a “stick it to the man” perspective, an opportunity to stick a big two fingers up to the blazers who have put the players in this position where they feel forced to move elsewhere or accept lower wages in order to stay.
As supporters we will continue to be right behind the players, with us also having that Last Dance feeling in the sense that we may not get the opportunity to push the team on to a competitive spot for some time, certainly not in terms of challenging for the top eight in the United Rugby Championship and Heineken Champions Cup qualification anyway.
Times are changing in Welsh rugby, so let’s all make the best of the next month and go out on some real high notes, securing good results on the field and packing the Arms Park for that round of 16 Challenge Cup game, with tickets available here.