By James Lloyd
You get the feeling that something special is happening at Cardiff University Rugby Club. The narrow 16-10 Varsity loss to Swansea in April will still taste bitter in the mouths of all those involved with the club, but autumn of 2016 brings a whole new chapter, a whole new culture and a fresh beginning for the men in red.
There was radical change at the forefront to begin with. Louie Tonkin departed for Bahrain RFC and in stepped Alun Wyn Davies who took over at the helm as Cardiff University’s Head of Rugby.
Davies has been involved with the club for a number of years, working as the defence and scrum coach under Tonkin’s reign. And the former Neath and Ospreys prop expressed his delight when the job became available.
“It’s exciting, I’ve been here two years as defence and scrum coach”, said Davies.
“I jumped at the chance when I knew the position was available. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. If you’re passionate about something, then it’s not work, it’s a dream job for myself so hopefully that comes across to the players.”
Davies explained his philosophy to transform Cardiff into a rugby stronghold, praising the work that former coach Tonkin put in over the last few years.
He said: “In regards to the university as an elite rugby environment, it has a long way to go, but the work us and Louie have put in over the last three years is something we are striving towards achieving. I want to be synonymous with an elite rugby environment.”
As part of the philosophy, Davies explained the importance of developing and nurturing talent from within the club without focussing purely on the first team.
“Our first year with Louie we concentrated solely on performance at the top end”, said Davies.
“In regards to the freshers that I now call an academy there wasn’t that conveyor belt system of developing beneath.”
He added: “I’ve sampled academy structures and it’s something we put in place last year. We put a fast track group in place, putting more emphasis on the freshers with Jack Bairstow and we are reaping the rewards from that now.
“That will be mirrored this year, I’ve put measurable targets in place now, so I want to see a certain amount of freshers come through that conveyor belt.”
Last month, Cardiff’s men’s first team were runners up to Cardiff Metropolitan in the the WRW Blues Construction University Cup, after losing 19-10 in the final.
“Unfortunately we were decimated with injuries for the final”, admitted Davies.
“I dare say if we had our team that started against USW we would have won.
“But hindsight is a wonderful thing, we had players playing out of position, which was great and a testament to the players we have within the rugby club as a whole.”
In the women’s final of the Blues Cup, Cardiff triumphed after trumping Cardiff Metropolitan on points difference after a three game round-robin style tournament.
And Davies was full of praise for women’s coach, Richard Jones and vows to lend him a helping hand.
“Rich has been doing it for around seven years on his own”, he said.
“The guy deserves a medal, to be on his own and dealing with essentially 80 players on a weekly basis is fantastic.
“I’ve wanted to surround Rich with good people to help him. It was one of the first things I sorted when I came on board, to support Rich and it’s a fantastic first measuring stick really in winning the Blues Cup, and long may their success continue.”
Davies has coached the Wales women’s side at two Six Nations’ tournaments and a World Cup – where they secured their highest ever finish.
“My involvement in the women’s game is reflected in the input I’ve tried to put in at women’s team here. I’ve done a few sessions with the girls now and I want to do more. I’m ecstatic that Rich wanted to continue this year”, added Davies.
There’s a sense of optimism amongst the club this year, championed by Davies’ vision of turning the team into a dominant force on and off the pitch, and in both the men’s and women’s game.
You get the picture that the new Head is continually twiddling his thumbs and wanting to make things happen, though Davies knows it’s no overnight job.
He explained: “We’re looking at different angles. When I say I want Cardiff to be synonymous with an elite rugby environment, I mean it.
“There’s family dynamic and family values that runs quite deep in rugby. To link the men’s and the women’s together is important for me to keep the foundations building.”
After April’s narrow Varsity loss, Davies hinted that revenge is close to the top of his wish list. “It will always be on the back of your mind. It’s going to take time and it’s the old cliché of taking a game at a time.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it, but we at the moment live in the present”, admitted Davies.
The men’s first team have played two matches so far, beating Hartpury 22-14 in the opener before losing 38-22 away at Bristol last Wednesday. The Red and Blacks will play UWE this Wednesday in their third BUCS game of the season.