By Rhys Thomas
For any team the new season always comes with fresh hopes and dreams for what lies ahead, and Cardiff Blues are no different. They started their journey back in August with the first of their warm-up matches at Newport against local rivals Dragons – going down to a 38-28 defeat. To the Blues’ defence, a second string side was selected and they were well-beaten before a Steven Shingler inspired mini-comeback made the final score much more respectable.
English Premiership new boys Bristol visited the Arms Park the week after, and it was new recruit Shingler who impressed again with Cardiff defeating their West Country rivals (who featured former Cardiff Blue, Wales and Lions international Gavin Henson) by a single point, 25-24.
It was clearly a mixed preseason, however in general the results don’t matter – the performances do. In that sense August was promising, but also showed how crucial squad depth is with a subpar performance from the reserves against Dragons.
The Edinburgh match which kicked off the season proper was hopefully a better indicator of things to come, with the Scottish side finishing on virtually the same number of points in the league table last season now being blown away 34-16 by the Blues.
A 23-24 victory away at Munster last Friday was yet another statement of intent, the Blues only winning one of the last eleven games against the Irish side. Wing Tom James impressed with his powerful, purposeful running and a brace of tries. Qualifying for the Champions Cup is certainly on the cards, and a push for the PRO12 play-offs won’t be out of the question if this winning form is kept up over the next few weeks and months.
There is more competition for places this season due to a spate of new signings (as well as development of junior players) over the summer. Gareth Anscombe versus Steve Shingler at outside-half, Lloyd Willians versus Tomos Williams at scrum-half, George Earle versus Jarrad Hoeata in the second-row and many more besides. During international periods, the Blues will have Josh Navidi and Ellis Jenkins to call on at open-side flanker when Wales skipper Sam Warburton is away – two better understudies you will not find in this league.