By Sion Ford
What would the assessment of the Cardiff Blues’ season be at this point in the year? As we move past the halfway stage of this season, the Blues currently sit in fifth position in their Pro14 conference table and have been soundly escorted out of contention for the knockout stages of the Champions Cup – how does this measure up with the expectations for the year?
Well, if we’re being frank, then there cannot really be too many disappointed faces among the Blues’ fanbase with how things have gone. Though it might be a cliché that gets rolled out in these circumstances, a new coach will always take time to bed into a new club, and as such you can pretty much write off the first year as a learning curve.
So far this season we’ve seen John Mulvihill’s way of playing start to take root among the squad, and there have been more than a few glimpses of what this team could be capable of, given time. We’ve also seen some worrying regressions that have blighted the development of this squad and its new identity on the field.
Take, for example, the group stage game against Glasgow in October – following an emphatic win out in Lyon, a strong performance at home would have seen the Blues in a commanding position as far as Europe is concerned. Having lost that in a feeble manner, the Blues’ return to the top table of European club rugby looks to have been a very short-lived one.
As for the league, an objective for the Blues season would have been to once again qualify for the Champions Cup; perhaps even pushing for a play-off spot would have been on the agenda. A quick look at the Blues’ domestic results, though, make for less inspiring reading.
A healthy 37-0 win against Zebre was followed by a 40-15 thumping at the hands of the Glasgow Warriors; an exasperating 16-12 loss at Ulster was followed by an equally frustrating 19-16 win over the Dragons; a surprise 34-5 win over the Scarlets in Llanelli gave way to a disappointing 20-11 slump to the Ospreys. It is a case of stating the obvious, but the lack of consistency is maddening. But, also, to be expected.
The Blues’ last two results suggest a step in a more solid direction, though. Seeing off a Lyon team in their final European game would have given the squad a confidence boost, but perhaps a turgid 8-7 win over Connacht will have done more for their spirits. Grinding out a win against conference and European place rivals, as well as scoring with two men off the park, teaches you a lot more about the character and resilience of a squad than a bonus-point win against French passengers.
While the Six Nations rages, the Blues will have to wait until the 16th of February before they take to the field again. Awaiting them is the Scottish side we should all now be all too familiar with, the Glasgow Warriors.