THERE was a time when the name Cardiff was synonymous with success, with the Blues having qualified for three Heineken Cup quarter-finals and a semi-final between 2007 to 2012, and lifted the 2009 EDF Energy Cup.
But Cardiff Blues have lost seven games out of nine this season and sit in the lowly position of 11th in the Guinness Pro 12 table, with only Italian minnows Treviso having accumulated fewer points. Since the departure of their highly rated Director of Rugby, David Young, to Wasps in 2011, the capital city region has bounced from one calamity to another.
Here Cardiffian rugby writer Steffan Thomas gives his view on what the Blues need to do in order to become competitive once again.
Quality over quantity
Glancing briefly over the Blues’ squad, the names Gethin Jenkins, Sam Warburton, Rhys Patchell and Lloyd Williams catch the eye, leading to the conclusion that perhaps the Blues have underachieved.
However, on closer inspection, there are quite frankly far too many poor players within the Blues squad. Every successful club and provincial side have a core group of solid clubmen behind their contingent of front line international players.
But this is not the case at the Arms Park, with Head Coach Danny Wilson having inherited a squad of 60 players, many of whom just aren’t up to the standards required to compete both domestically and in Europe.
Give credit to Wilson, he has already identified this as an issue that needs urgent attention, with the former Scarlets coach expected to assemble a smaller, tighter squad with more quality in preparation for next season.
With only a finite amount of money available in Welsh rugby, the Blues need to choose their signings far more wisely than in recent seasons.
So far this season the Blues’ pack of forwards have struggled to gain a foothold in games with their lack of possession being a major weakness.
Close analysis of match statistics this season show that the Blues more often than not have less possession than their opposition. Last Thursday against Harlequins they were only able to secure 45 per cent of the possession, with 39 per cent against Munster and a mere 33 per cent against both Zebre and Leinster.
It is clear then that the Blues board must target the signings of some top class forwards. A quality tight-head prop to anchor the scrum, at least two grafting locks, and a ball carrying number eight are a must in terms of recruitment.
The Blues squad is also short on leaders with Wilson’s side resembling a fragile mess on more than one occasion this season. They must not only consider the quality of any player they are signing but his leadership potential.
The Blues would do well to remember the impact that Kiwi lock Paul Tito, and All Blacks number eight Xavier Rush had on and off the field during David Young’s tenure in charge.
Faith in youth
The Blues would also do well to put more faith in youth ahead of next season.
As has already been mentioned there are far too many players closer to the standard of the semi-professional Welsh Premiership than the Pro 12.
It would be of far more benefit in the long run if the Blues put faith in their Wales under 20’s contingent such as hooker Liam Belcher, fly half Jarrod Evans and scrum half Tomos Williams among others.
There may be some pain to begin with but in the long run this would inevitably create a far more vibrant squad full of players with greater potential than they currently have in their squad.
Take the Ospreys and Scarlets, while neither are able to consistently compete with European rugby’s superpowers due to financial limitations, both stay reasonably competitive due to the players produced from their academies.
There is far more quality in both the Ospreys and Scarlets squads, with their faith in youth allowing them to be competitive in the Pro 12 at least – an example that the Blues could learn from.
Head Coach Danny Wilson has only been at the helm for a matter of months, with most of the deep-rooted problems facing the Blues pre-dating his arrival.
Wilson is well respected within rugby circles, with a reputation as a set-piece expert whose attention to detail is often praised. He must therefore be afforded a minimum of two seasons to turn around the fortunes of an ailing Blues region.
It is also vitally important that the Blues board fully support the former hooker in his efforts, while also allowing him the luxury of appointing his own backroom staff, which is something t.hat hasn’t happened so far.
Given the financial restrictions facing the Welsh regions it is always going to be an uphill battle to compete with European rugby’s big spenders.
However, a few structural changes and the Blues should at the very least become competitive in the Guinness Pro 12.