Twas the night before Judgement Day, and all round the city, everyone was stirring, because the Daily Mail was reporting that Dai Young had been suspended as Director of Rugby.
Not exactly ideal preparation for a huge Welsh derby at Principality Stadium against Ospreys with a spot in the 2023/24 Heineken Champions Cup on the line, to say the least. Just another chapter in the nightmare novel that has been this season for Cardiff and Welsh rugby.
However, credit to the players in Blue and Black, or Red and Black with Blue and Black socks as it was on Saturday, they did as they have done time-and-time again this campaign, put aside off-field issues, whether of their own making or out of their hands, and turned in a performance to be proud of on a personal level over and above the level of representing this great club.
From minute zero, when there was a bit of a barney in the tunnel and Cardiff somehow made Ospreys run out first in their home game, there was a mental edge. That translated into a physical edge on the field as the challenge was met up front and a bulky opposition pack was moved around with ease.
I’m a big fan of Toby Booth; I think he’s a very impressive bloke and has done a good job in charge of the Ospreys in challenging conditions, but he got it wrong on Saturday. Picking three locks and Dan Lydiate at openside, and matching that with the double playmakers of Gareth Anscombe and Owen Williams trying to get the ball moving in the backs, resulted in a laboured and fragmented showing.
It set the table for the Blue and Blacks to play to our strengths, and key players went back for multiple helpings at the buffet.
The tight five were able to out-manoeuvre their opponents on both sides of the ball, Thomas Young and then James Botham off the bench had a field day around the breakdown, and Taulupe Faletau and Tomos Williams were afforded an armchair ride to do classy Taulupe Faletau and Tomos Williams things. The way they ran the game was a sight to behold.
Tactically the decision to let Jarrod Evans and Rhys Priestland run the kicking game almost exclusively was the clincher for Cardiff. Tomos was able to concentrate on controlling the tempo of the attack from the base, putting pressure on with tap penalties and guiding us around the field, continually keeping the Ospreys on the back foot during an utterly dominant first half.
Hopefully Warren Gatland was glued to his television while keeping his feet up in New Zealand counting his stacks of cash received for remarkably few days work per year, and noticed that when you play to the strengths of your best players then good performances will follow.
Once that base was secure and the best players got going, it was one of the best Cardiff showings of the season as players looked free of pressure, enjoyed their rugby and ultimately won in style to do what even the great powers of Leinster, La Rochelle and Saracens have never been able to do, and lift the United Rugby Championship’s Welsh Shield.
Where the away game at Connacht last week was a concerning look into the future of the Blue and Blacks, the win over Ospreys at Judgement Day was a bittersweet reflection on what this group achieved at their best over the last few years, ranking alongside victories over Sale, Sharks, Stormers, Leinster and Scarlets as some of the best days on-the-pitch.
A fitting way to bid farewell to those departing or retiring, and to generally bring the curtain down on this era of Cardiff Rugby’s history.