Regardless of the last 7 minutes of the Ospreys game that ensured European Challenge Cup rugby again for Cardiff, 2016-17 has been one of the most positive seasons for many years. The arrival of Danny Wilson was a breath of fresh air, as from his first interviews it was clear that he knew rugby, he was confident in expressing his vision & the well worn platitudes about ‘pride in the jersey’ only an appendix to the main message that Cardiff would rebuild and the foundations would need to be strong. Hugely impressive as media sound-bites are, the real test would have to be on the pitch.

On the pitch the ebb & flow of the season confirmed the work in progress. First signs of a rolling maul were spotted, an increasingly assured line out developed as was a noticeable energy when defending. Against this backdrop, it was hard not to sense that Danny Wilson was learning as much about his players as they were from him. As the season continued in stuttering fashion, it was rare that positives could not be gleaned from games. Perhaps exceptions to this were the games against Harlequins at home & Zebre away. In the latter game a late bench change would signal the beginning of the demise, how ironic that we saw history repeat itself at Judgement Day. A few days later it is hard to escape the feeling that Wilson played this card in full recognition of the likelihood of the outcome.

Autumn came and went, season of misses & frustrating fruitlessness, to misquote the poet. Notably Montpellier away was a real kick in the teeth, though on visceral level offered some atonement for the Harlequins at home game. Then came the Christmas & New Year period, this is always a strange time for rugby in Wales, derby season, when sense, form & table positions count for little. When the Welsh diaspora return home demanding to be entertained & the rest of us begrudgingly have to move a little to the left or right on the terrace ( I am not sure what is like in the seats ).

It is also a time when Cardiff play a proper derby against traditional opponents from the town-on-the-Usk. 2016/17 saw Cardiff visit Rodney Parade, whatever else it may be RP still offers a gritty, unwelcoming & unapologetic setting for professional rugby. It is hard not to be impressed by the unbending value they place on you not being a home supporter! Whisper it but I like it.

This game saw a particularly stodgy, error strewn affair that seemingly plummeted new depths when on scoring the winning try our delightfully frustrating winger went a bit soccer. That though hid the fact that Cardiff would have lost the game if it had taken place in 2015/16. Instead the Cardiff team kept playing & showed it was beginning to trust the game-plan being developed. Real progress was in evidence. (On this occasion I pay the opposition no heed!)

The Scarlets game on New Years Day is, on reflection, a particular highlight of the season. From a passion filled, throbbing Arms Park, in part due to a vociferous away support that seemingly had songs for each of their players to a Cardiff team fighting back after gifting Scarlets 14 points, the game was everything a game should be. It underlined that the Cardiff team were rediscovering a sense of the daring, seeing the possible & refusing to be cast as the perennial runners up. Furthermore it sparked a strange, long absent feeling, one that made watching Cardiff enjoyable.

So from the two games over the Christmas & New Year period, it is clear that they served a wider dual purpose (9 points from 10 was hugely welcome) but it allowed supporters to engage with their team again. Beyond the natural affinity, the players & the coaching team allowed us to believe in their vision for the future. Maybe it is not Invictus territory but Cardiff did emerge out of the night, unconquerable was still a way off but as supporters we could watch the game without covering our eyes.

That this happened against the backdrop of Rugby World Cup when the better players were away being beasted to within an inch of their lives is hugely impressive, to continue to navigate the path through the 6 Nations, doubly so. The waters are choppy, the waves huge but the captain of the ship maintains a sense of calm determination. Perhaps it is true to suggest that Cardiff of all the Welsh professional teams have had the longest journey to make. That players seemingly at odds with themselves let alone the club beforehand now perform at least to expectation is a testimony to the excellence of coaching and care shown and credit to the players for stepping up to the mark.

The journey has just begun, there were still huge disappointments and results that must not be accepted or repeated in future – home performance against Harlequins show this. I have admitted a return to enjoying watching Cardiff play, I think this is true of many. In the week leading up to the recent Ospreys game I found myself eagerly anticipating the game, building on the feeling before Scarlets away & Newport Dragons at home, the former game was also in the running for highlight of the season until Gareth Anscombe’s pass for Aled Summerhil’s try vs Ospreys.

So as the season for Cardiff at least draws to a close I think the future is looking a lot a lot healthier than we dared believe 12 months ago. The sense of realism amongst many Cardiff supporters seems to be healthily rooted in our recent past but emerging is a real strand of hope, of expectation & of belief that rugby in Cardiff and all that it encompasses is heading in the right direction. It is a natural hope that we see alot more supporters at the Arms Park, young & old. It is a natural hope that the team continue to give supporters something to believe in. 

Make no mistake .... #inDannywetrust

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