The history of Cardiff Rugby Football Club is littered with great teams too numerous to mention. There are trophy winners, conquerors of touring sides and those packed with cult heroes that have delighted supporters at the Arms Park for nearly 150 years.
Usually though those great teams are the 1st XV of the Blue and Blacks, where the stars get together and play on the biggest stages for the biggest rewards. The 2nd XV, the Rags, are still famous in their own right but are very much the developmental side where old heads help young talent transition from youth rugby to senior standouts.
Not since 1884/85, when the Rags went unbeaten for the entire season and capped it off by beating the 1st XV at the end of the campaign, have they been the main event…until now that is.
The last 30 years have been a turbulent time for the 2nd XV. It starts out with the abolition of the side at the advent of professionalism as the club chose to focus on it’s elite playing squad, before the Rags were partially reformed with the creation of an U21 side at the turn of the millennium and then the semi-professional Welsh Premiership side that competed following the reorganisation of professional rugby in Wales.
It hasn’t always been a smooth relationship between what was effectively the 1st XV and Rags, but despite that the 2nds did finish runners-up in the 2006/07 Welsh Cup before lifting the 2008/09 Welsh Premiership title, ahead of a barren spell whereby the side lost out to “regional” politics to the detriment of the club as a whole.
Since 2018 though a switch has been flicked and logic has won out. The side has been recognised and used as the Rags once again. Under the guidance of Steve Law as Head Coach and Gruff Rees as Director of Rugby alongside his role as Academy Manager, the squad put together has returned to that balance between experienced older players and talented youngsters.
Across the intervening five years that group has grown from mid-table Premiership fodder to winners of both the Welsh Cup, in 2019, and the Welsh Premiership, in 2022, and now the opportunity raises its head to be the main event once again as Cardiff go for a League and Cup double over the next few weeks.
The Blue and Blacks are in the driving seat to finish top of the currently named Indigo Group Premiership and earn home advantage in the end-of-season play-offs, with fixtures away at Ebbw Vale and home to Merthyr left to confirm that, after a campaign that has seen the side lose just three times in the 20 games played to-date.
First though it’s the Cup Final on Sunday as the old enemy of Newport await at the Principality Stadium for a clash fitting of a game close to the end of an era for this Rags squad.
Whether it’s linked to the current state of Welsh rugby finances, the new format of the Premiership next season, or simply the natural evolution of a squad that has been together a while, this Blue and Blacks side will look pretty drastically different next season as players move on to pastures new.
And as the Rags have improved over the last few years into season-after-season contenders, so have Newport enjoyed a spell of success thanks to a similar developmental situation with the Dragons, bringing back a real bite to the historic derby. The Black and Ambers beat us four times last season, but we ultimately pipped them to the post in the title race.
So as the last few weeks of the season and the era come around, the big games provide a chance for the Rags to achieve something very special. It’s a group of players that have given so much to the jersey and restored pride to a club that has suffered in many ways across recent years, displaying a spirit and style befitting the heritage.
If you can, get down to the Principality Stadium to support the boys in the Final, tickets are £10 and available from the WRU Shop on Westgate Street on the day, while home league games are included in the season ticket.
Just checking. As I thought this was a too good to be true. The games on our season ticket?