The 2016/17 season was a typically Cardiff Blues affair in many ways. It promised much, built hopes early on, crushed them over-and-over again, before just planting a seed of optimism in our minds that maybe next season will be the season of progress.

Reasons for the mid-season collapse have been discussed a lot, with a major injury crisis and some distinctly suspect defensive performances among the prime explanations for going on a run of just two wins in 10 league matches between October and February.

How those issues are translated into points of learning is now the key for next season and beyond, as well as looking at what went right throughout the year and building on that. There is a distinct feeling the playing side of the club is very close to reaching their target of the Pro12 top six, but frustratingly falls at some very simple hurdles.

So what can we take forward into 2017/18 as a positive, or as a negative, to learn from? Well, at the risk of sounding like a WalesOnline list, here's a few things to focus on.

Bonus Points

Try scoring bonus points have always been hard to come by in Cardiff, with five being the highest total in recent years, and this season was no different as we secured just three try bonus points over the course of 22 Pro12 matches. Only Edinburgh, Dragons, Treviso and Zebre scored fewer.

The frustrating aspect to this is that on 11 occasions in the league alone, Cardiff Blues scored three tries in a game. When you think back to games like Treviso away, Dragons at home and Zebre home and away, there were matches where a try bonus point was easily possible but the opportunities were squandered.

In fact, if the bonus point try was scored in those games, and just two others, then the Blues would actually have finished with a point more than Glasgow in 6th place and leapfrogged them in the table to secure Champions Cup qualification for next season.

These are the tight margins that matter in professional sport, and if Cardiff are looking to kick on then they'll need to develop a killer instinct. Putting the likes of Dragons, Edinburgh and the Italians away, and pushing the top Irish and Welsh teams further.

Squad Rotation

This may seem like an odd item to bring up when considering for most of the season we did not have enough of a squad to rotate! However, cast your mind back to the start of the season before the injury crisis.

The opening six games of the season encompassed a four-game unbeaten streak, where Munster and Glasgow were dispatched, then an incredibly frustrating home defeat to Leinster and the humiliation of being hammered away to the Ospreys.

What was most interesting about those games was that only 27 players were used throughout the six weeks. With two players only appearing once, it meant that at least 20 players were used every week for the opening six weeks of the season.

Of course, many injuries are unavoidable, but there is no doubt that squad rotation aids player recovery and that is especially important due to the sheer physicality of modern day rugby. That rest period can greatly reduce risk of injury, as well as maintaining the condition of the player for longer into the season.

Aside from that, rotation keeps the opposition guessing in terms of style of play and team selection, with different players bringing different aspects to game plans. For example, our back row riches mean you could select a powerful trio of Williams, Cook and Turnbull, or the more agile Navidi, Warburton and Jenkins, depending on opposition.

Trust in Youth

A big positive from last season, but one which was stumbled upon through necessity rather than choice, was the fantastic performances of Cardiff Blues' younger squad members.

A factor in the lack of squad rotation was Danny Wilson's desire to cut the squad size down quite drastically, leaving only 41 players in the senior squad with academy members being supplemented to bolster the squad.

The lack of senior players, coupled with a seeming reluctance to use the talent that can be found amongst our under-23 contingent, was a big part of using the same players week-in, week-out, as well as the good results throughout September.

However, once we the injury crisis arrived there was no option but to turn to the academy and it's recent graduates, with some superb performances from Corey Domachowski, Seb Davies, Tomos Williams and Rhun Williams. While seeing very young players such as Kieron Assiratti and Shane Lewis-Hughes make their debuts is also hugely encouraging.

With the Wales U20 squad at this summer's Junior World Championship containing a strong Cardiff Blues contingent, we are just starting to see a golden generation of youngsters coming through the ranks, and trusting them with reasonable game time in the Pro12 and Europe will be key to ensure that squad rotation.

As well as that, these players are the key to developing the squad depth that we massively lack. We also cannot afford to buy-in players like English and French teams. Producing our own talent, who could very well be first team players and even internationals in the near future, is by far the best and cheapest route to competing with the big spenders.

Attack Attack Attack

Even though the 2016/17 season didn't break any ground in terms of attacking statistics for Cardiff, there were certainly flashes of promise amid a turbulent year for the unit of backs under Matt Sherratt's tutelage.

The centre partnership is crucial to any side's attacking chances, and the Blues went through a number of changes in that department this season with Cory Allen and Garyn Smith joining Rey Lee-Lo early on, then Willis Halaholo arrived to pair up with Steve Shingler after Christmas, before Lee-Lo returned to partner his Southern Hemisphere compatriot to finish off the campaign.

A transitional feel that still managed to throw up the attacking showcases seen against Bristol and Treviso at home, Ospreys at Judgement Day and even in defeat against Gloucester and Leinster.

With a full pre-season of working together there's a definite excitement about what the attacking talents of Alex Cuthbert, Tom James and Dan Fish can achieve, with Gareth Anscombe pulling the strings behind Tomos and Lloyd Williams who will be battling it out for the scrum-half berth.

Card avoidance

Modern day rugby is fast becoming a haven for yellow cards, with laws governing player welfare getting stricter every season, especially in the collision area.

With that being said though, the amount of cards received by Cardiff Blues players this season has been verging on ridiculous. 18 cards across 33 games has been disappointing at best, although there was a marked improvement in the second half of the season where only 4 of the cards came in the last 17 games.

There is a slight positive, in that towards the end of the season we coped far better when playing with a man down, but now we have that experience there is no need to repeat the disciplinary issues that plagued the first half of the season.

The danger is we get a reputation as an ill-disciplined side, with referees waiting to produce a card for a Cardiff player. We also will not be able to cope every time with a man down, and we may end up repeating incidence like Ospreys away, Leinster home and Ulster home where a yellow card cost at least a try.

All in all there's plenty of food for thought over the summer for Danny Wilson and his currently bare looking backroom staff, as they look to kick this squad on to the Pro12 top six.

There's a cautious sense of optimism ahead of the new season, with new arrivals in the engine room being much welcomed, but there's a realism that at times this team looked a some distance off challenging last season.

Ultimately it will take a degree of consistency to prevail across the entire 2017/18 campaign to result in an improved league position, but if the points raised above can be worked upon then we may be able to maintain the performance level required to take steps forward.

In Danny and the players we trust and hope; come on Cardiff!



  • Mon, 17/07/2017 - 12:47 reply

    Spot on. Observations and conclusions totally correct ,well the same as I think! 

    I still feel that the squad is too thin in certain positions but with no money to buy new players , we have to hope for less injuries than last season. This was  a factor totally under played by A Howells in a review of the regions before the end of the season.

    We also have to hope that the players are motivated enough to put in strong and consistent performances at a region in crisis with an uncertain future 

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