As news continues to trickle out about Cardiff players heading for the Arms Park exit this summer concern grows over what sort of squad the Blue and Blacks can put out next season.
The scenario is an unfortunate one for the capital city club who are in the middle of a perfect storm whereby around 20 players are out of contract, the remaining contracted players include the majority of big earners at the club, and the payments from the Welsh Rugby Union are decreasing in line with a new, lower salary cap meaning we are struggling to build a playing group for 2023/24.
Certain positions are looking particularly thin on the ground, with tighthead prop, fly-half and centre suffering from impending departures of Dillon Lewis, Jarrod Evans and Max Llewellyn, while the futures of Dmitri Arhip, Keiron Assiratti, Rhys Priestland, Ben Thomas, Uilisi Halaholo and Rey Lee-Lo are decidedly up in the air.
As a result Cardiff will need to head into the player market in order to boost squad depth to a level that at least allows us to complete the season. However, there’s a warning around doing so blindly and leaving the rugby management with their hands tied once again for the next few years in terms of building a squad.
In recent years a mix of poor recruitment and retention planning, and mostly the fallout from the pandemic that saw extended contracts handed out in return for reduced salaries, have resulted in the Blue and Blacks carrying players who are clearly surplus to requirement and signing players simply to fill gaps rather than to improve the squad or as part of any coherent recruitment strategy.
Those are the lessons for Cardiff to learn as we enter this next period in the club’s history, one of belt tightening and survival, rather than growth and competitiveness. Every penny will have to be wisely spent with the aim of building back stronger at some point in the future.
A recruitment strategy has to be built around a style of play and acquiring players which suit that, as well as matching personalities to the culture that is desired at the Arms Park. Bringing bodies in purely to fill the squad would go against that and set us back in improving the squad if and when the financial picture does improve.
Bringing in bodies would also do little, if anything, to actually solve any problems in terms of the Blue and Blacks having an outside chance of being competitive next season. None of the previous instances of signing players for the sake of filling a gap have consistently worked out in the sense.
In their place I would hope Cardiff place their faith in youth over the next few years. At times this will mean players are promoted into the first team too quickly and that will incur a performance cost, but by creating a culture of learning and development around that the aim will be for short term pain to precede a medium term gain, rather than short term pain leading to medium term pain in turn.
Promoting young players earlier than we currently do will keep costs down as they incur less salary at the outset of their careers, allowing for future investment in signings that will improve the squad around them rather than just fill gaps, and can also help those players to realise the top end of their potential, some of whom may not have reached that had their development have been more drawn out.
Whether that future growth in Welsh rugby actually materialises is another source of debate, but Cardiff should focus on controlling what we can, and that is getting ourselves ready to take advantage of any opportunity that comes our way.
We cannot afford to be stuck in this position again where we are waiting for contracts to expire before we can move forward.
Interesting Dan. I love my live rugby, particularly at the CAP. But, unlike the Wales warm ups, we don’t know dates therefore can we attend? no times, so if we are available, can we attend. Then add to that, do we have a team with a chance of competing? For the first time in ages, I’ve not bought Wales tickets as I don’t know whether I can use public transport to attend. Likewise, I find myself with a similar dilemma in respect of Cardiff. I’ve been a season ticket holder for over 30 years, my daughters for 25 years (ish). However, with only 11 known contracted players, can anyone convince buying a season ticket is a good idea?