Category Archives: Previews

Crystal ball and navel gazing

Sale vs Cardiff Blues Preview

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During the professional era, Sale Rugby Union Football Club were at their peak during the mid-2000s. During the 2005-6 season, they finished top of the English Premiership by a margin of five points. Well funded, they ranked as one of the richest clubs in England, thanks to the support of Brian Kennedy. But when the money dried up, the club’s turnover fell from £9.3m in 2005-6 to £7.9m in 2009 (ironically, the same at that registered by the Cardiff Blues in that season), and the club were almost relegated from the top tier. Since then, they’ve been a solid mid-table performer, sometimes reaching the Champions Cup, but never really making an impression. Last season, Sale registered 20 defeats – only one less than their all time poorest season. Cardiff’s record was little better, with an increase of 3 defeats on the previous season and on 18 occasions the club registered a loss.

This season, Sale have yet to record a victory in the Champions Cup, with a draw against Toulouse at home and an away defeat in Lyon. Cardiff – meanwhile – stand at the top of Pool 2 with a home victory over Lyon and an away victory in Toulouse.

Head-to-Head

Cardiff have faced Sale away from home on a total of seven occasions in the modern era; two friendlies, twice in the Anglo-Welsh Cup and three times in the Heineken Cup. Only once – in 2008 – did the register the narrowest of victories.

The Coaches

Sale’s current director of rugby is Steve Diamond, an ex-player at the club with experience coaching at Saracens and the man who led the Russian national team to the 2011 Rugby World Cup. His current stint at the club began in October 2012 and he’s now been in charge for 165 fixtures – only Jim Mallinder, Rob Baxter, Mark McCall and Dai Young have been around for longer at the top of the English game. Diamond’s coaching has seen a focus on home victories, with a respectable 63% win ratio. Away from home is another story and Sale are one of the worst travellers in the Aviva Premiership. Danny Wilson’s results from his 76 games in charge show a close similarity to Diamond’s. His team also struggles away from home with only a 33% win ratio.

The Referee

Saturday’s game will be refereed by Pierre Brousset, a relative newcomer to the ranks of professional referees. Still only 28 years old, he began his career in the Top 14 in France last season. He is the youngest referee currently active in the Top 14. In 84% of the games he’s refereed, the home team has been victorious. This compares with the competition average of 74%. He has yet to referee either Sale or Cardiff. This season, Brousset is less likely to award penalties (averaging 17 per game) than he was last season (when he averaged 23.2 penalties per game), and as for awarding yellow or red cards, last season he averaged 2.3 per game, whereas  this season, it’s 1.8 per game.

Attack

Sale have scored 32 tries in the Premiership so far this season which makes the team one of the more formidable in attack in that competition. Cardiff have scored 10 fewer and a porous defence means the Welsh team is somewhat off the pace in Conference A of the Pro14.  Sales’ success is built on a strong carrying game, with an emphasis on running hard with ball in hand over kicking and passing. Only Exeter and Saracens have run more meters this season.  However, the teams offloading game is not the strongest, nor is their ability to make clean breaks. Meanwhile, Cardiff’s offloading game is equally unimpressive. No team has made more clean breaks than Cardiff in the Pro14 this season, and perhaps one can point at an unsettled back row as a reason why the team has failed to capitalise on this facet of their game. Although Cardiff’s tactical approach to kicking remains virtually the same whether playing home or away (averaging 20 kicks per game), Sale’s data shows a some differences. Looking at data over the last two seasons, we can expect Sale to kick between 26 and 28 times during a home game.

Set piece

Sale’s scrum is one of the strongest in the league, and only in the games against Worcester, Newcastle and Northampton did they fail to record a 100% success rate. However, their lineout is one of the weakest (with a success rate of only 82%) and both Newcastle and Exeter’s victories at the AJ Bell stadium this season were built on attacking the home team’s lineout. Sale have pinched 21 lineouts this season, with Cardiff managing 19. Cardiff’s lineout success is one of the highest in the Pro14, with a scrum success rate firmly mid-table.

Defence

Both team’s tackle stats for this season show a remarkable similarity, with Cardiff averaging 118 tackles attempted per game – exactly the same as Sale‘s. Completion ratios are equally similar. Turnovers remain a vital part of the game and provide a launch pad from which teams can counter attack against disorganised defensive patterns. Cardiff’s form in this facet of the game last season was unaffected by whether they played at home or away from home – conceding on average 14 turnovers per game. Meanwhile, Sale’s record showed a difference between home and away.

Discipline

Last season in the Aviva Premiership, Sale received more cards than any other team at home – a trend that has continued into this season. Last season in the Pro12, only Zebre were carded more often than Cardiff, though this season has seen a slight improvement.

Sale are one of the most penalised teams in the Aviva this season – averaging 10.2 penalties per game. Last season, discipline was also a problem and they topped the table with 10.5 penalties per game. Cardiff’s discipline was of a higher standard in 2016-7, conceding only 8.6 penalties per game, though this season the data reads an ugly 10.7 penalties per game on average.

In the Pro14 this season, Cardiff are a mid-table team who are carded every 18 penalties they concede. Last season, they were more likely to be carded, conceding a card every 12 penalties. This figures are close to those recorded by Sale, who – during the 2016-17 – received yellow cards at a rate faster than any other team. The situation is no better this season, where their rate of conceding a card is the highest in the league again (discounting Saracens, who have yet to concede a yellow or red card in the Aviva Premiership this season).

Prediction

This fixture promises to be a tough one for the Cardiff Blues. The outstanding away win in Toulouse aside, results away from home this season has been poor. With Pierre Brousset in charge, there will be plenty of penalties and cards and Sale remain a force at home. The home team’s set piece is strong and they will kick the penalties that the ref awards. Expect pressure from driving lineouts, and Cardiff’s defence is a real weakness in this facet of play. The home team will win this game with relative ease, 33-19.

Complacency

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Cardiff have a long tradition of failing to perform in Europe, and the recent defeat at Headingly was very much part of this tradition. And it really is the performance that fans endure – not the loss. The famous capitulation at Gloucester five years ago mirrored the performance against Leeds as a shambolic ramble took the pitch and put in one of the most feeble and half-hearted performances you are ever likely to see.

The defeat at Biarritz two years ago was by a team hugely superior in every facet. Cardiff – by contrast – were a mixture of youngsters struggling manfully to compete. The best coach in the world could have been leading that squad and he would have struggled.

But the performance on Saturday was all the more dreadful given the abject weakness of the opposition. Leeds are heading for English rugby’s second division. None of the back row – Parkes, Thomas and Morgan – would get in a Welsh professional team and their mixture of has-been Scots with overpaid southern hemisphere geriatrics feeding their pension funds are consistently walloped in the Guiness Premiership. There is simply no comparison with the Gloucester team of 2001 and the Biarritz team of 2003.

Historical Perspective

The inability to learn from previous mistakes and to react is a classic indicator either ineptitude or complacency. This is the third major game in as many matches where Young has failed to coach his players to improve their performance at the breakdown. Against Llanelli, Perpignan and now Leeds, a failure to commit players to the breakdown gifts the opposition the ball. Not too long ago, Cardiff were leaking penalties at this facet of play, but now Young’s coaching has gone too far the other way. What’s the best way to stop giving penalties? Don’t compete!

We’re just not good enough

So why is that then Dai? Is it because the players aren’t good enough, the team isn’t good enough or the coaching staff isn’t good enough? Let’s start with the pack. Well, four of the pack that played against Leeds are likely to start against England – TRT, Sidoli, Williams and Gethin. Three of this quartet featured in the team that defeated Australia. So, Dai, are you trying to tell us that the Leeds pack is better than the Australian pack?

So the team isn’t good enough? You mean as individuals or as a unit? Well, as fans have rarely seen the individuals playing as a unit, then it’s difficult to comment. Unit skills against Leeds were dreadful. The lineout was a shambles and back play haphazard and lacking in any tactical variation. Sure Cardiff weren’t good enough – any fool can read the scoreboard! The question is “why”?

The ability to perform on the day

No supporter complains when the team is beaten by better opponents. When Cardiff lost at Wasps, sure people were unhappy about the manner of victory, but few of us seriously expected a win. But what makes supporter fume is a lack of application and commitment – some call is passion – on the day. For the Headingly game, there must have been around 1,000 Cardiff supporters in the ground. Most would have traveled up from Cardiff – a round trip of 700 miles. Some came on the supporters bus, others in minibuses, and some with their kids. Now taking your kids for nine hours in a car on a Sunday isn’t an easy commitment! Then there’s the money spent on petrol, tickets – accommodation in some cases – food, entertaining the kids. All this takes more than a little application and commitment.

Supporters have every right to ask whether the players on the pitch showed sufficient application and commitment.

Frankly speaking, the collective commitment on Sunday was insulting. The team lacked hunger and aggression as a unit. Their commitment to the tackle was dreadful – most players waiting for the ball carrier to hit them, rather than to attack the ball carrier. There was no sense of urgency to support the ball carrier on the few occasions when Cardiff did go forward.

The way teams chase kicks is often a very good way to judge the professionalism and application of a side. This is a skill you can teach kids – it’s not inherently difficult but a good benchmark for how the team is working together. Good sides chase the kick in a line across the pitch, but throughout the game Cardiff simply failed to work together. The kicker and Powell were often the only two in a dog leg attempt at defence that was easily beaten. There are very few clearer examples of the poor discipline and lack of mental application within the team than this simple skill.

Lack of ambition at the club

“I’m certainly not going to get rid of him Dai Young. We are damn lucky to have him”

Cardiff chairman, Peter Thomas saying that Young is the best he can get

Let’s try and ignore the propaganda that’s pumped out from Thomson House and Llandaff, and look at what ambition the club has. When Peter Thomas says Young won’t get the sack, that means he believes Young is the best they can get. He believes that Young is getting the best out of the players, the team is coached well and Young’s team of coaches are best of the club

Sure Thomas can talk about signing better players and we’d all like to see that, but a coach’s job is to get the best our of the players he has. Can anyone say that Young did that at Headingly?

Clearly Thomas and Young believe that this is the best we can hope for. They look for excuses at every opportunity – and their not alone in this, by the way. Lyn Jones and Paul Turner are full of excuses. Blame every one else other than your own failure to deliver. So Thomas and Young think the only way to improve things is to sign better players.

But isn’t real ambition about pushing players to perform? Isn’t it about challenging existing players to improve? Sure they will come up against better individuals, but shouldn’t the team – as a unit – be able to defeat oppositions who play as individuals?

Dai Young – Peter Thomas

poodle

Why does Thomas defend Young’s inadequacies so vehemently? Clearly that is because Young is the sort of coach that Thomas wants. Now why would that be? Young is everything Thomas wants in a coach – he never complains about a lack of support in the press, he’s happy to let other board members dabble in the signing of players, his placid persona fits exactly with Thomas’ ego. Thomas does not want another coach at CAP because any strong minded leader would clearly challenge Thomas’ position.

Coaches want the best players to work with and build the team. So let’s look at what’s happening at CAP on the player/recruitment side. You may think that the signing of Lomu was commercial genius but that was not down to anything actively done by Cardiff RFC, let alone Young as coach. The Lomu deal was set up by Steve Hansen – Peter Thomas was on a golf course at the time and knew nothing about it! Hansen called Norster and offered him the deal – all the club had to do was sign.

Lee Thomas’ imminent move to Sale comes as a direct failure of the club to recognize his talent over the grossly ineffective Macleod. Against Gloucester last season, Thomas showed his potential and more importantly his mental toughness. He underlined that again against Leeds with the best performance of any of the back line. But players with mental toughness are not what the coach wants – more poodles please!

Quinnell is not being offered another contract for next season. So yet another player with a passion for the club and a hard edge so sorely lacking in the pack. Hence Young’s failure to give the big man a start this season and hence why Cardiff are so often overpowered in the maul.

The signing of Matthew J Watkins – not a bad player – is another mystery. Players get touted around the clubs in an effort to boost their salaries – as happened with Stephen Jones – but surely the coach should be making a shopping list of what he needs, not allowing Norster to sign up players just because they become available?

The Future

Perhaps the expectations of fans always outweighs the reality of clubs to deliver, but in this case the fans are clearly getting short changed. We don’t expect a squad of word class players, but we expect the squad to improve on their weakness, approach every game with a self belief that anything can happen on the day and play their hearts out on the pitch.

We fans know the limitations of the present squad. We can also see the cliques emerging which means players like Lee Thomas have no option but to leave the club having suffered the public humiliation of being told that Macleod is a better player than he. But we also know that Leeds are a poor side – Llanelli stuffed them and they are at the bottom of the league …. that is no accident.

Players at Cardiff are underachieving – ignore what Young says about not being in the top eight in Europe. What counts is the performance on the day – defeating Leeds – not whether Cardiff should be in the top eight. At Headingly, the selection was wrong, the performance abysmal and the application dreadful.

Talk is of the players working hard, but clearly not enough of that is happening on the pitch! Young players like Czekaj and Macleod are simply not improving at the necessary rate. Others – like Nick Robinson – are betraying mental weakness which reflects the complacency at the club. Players are being sheltered instead of being toughened by the club. This can be the only explanation for insulting away performances which mock the efforts made by so many supporters.

And this is the biggest problem Cardiff face – the lack of professionalism of the players.

This stems from the culture at the club where a weak coach is protected by a dabbling multi-millionaire who keeps his money in his back pocket. What the club needs is a coach who is far far tougher and far more demanding of his players. What sort of message does it send out when Young says Cardiff are not good enough to compete with the top eight in Europe? Are Leeds in the top eight??

Will Dai Young be coach next season? Too right he will!

Pre-Season Results of Celtic League vs Non-Celtic League Sides

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Worcester 12 Cardiff 10
Leicester 31 Cardiff 13
Gloucester 28 Llanelli 6
Llanelli 17 Wasps 20
Toulouse 28 Ospreys 14
Ospreys 5 Bath 15
Edinburgh 0 Leicester 36
Munster 13 Newcastle 6
Munster 5 London Irish 12
Northampton 35 Newport 11
Northampton 47 Edinburgh 17
Ulster 19 Harlequins 26
Connacht 9 Newcastle 32
Connacht 16 London Irish 24
Sale 43 Glasgow 6
Glasgow 20 Sale 39
Leeds 34 Glasgow 3

 

P17 W1 D0 L16

As the Celtic League (CL) and Zurich Premiership (ZP) finally kicks off, the Welsh media is full of comparisons between the two competitions. Are the two leagues really comparable? Can the Celtic League really compete with England’s best? Let’s take a look at how things stand both on and off the pitch.

On the pitch, based on pre-season friendlies, the situation is clear. Only on one occasion when teams from the ZP and CL went head to head, did a CL side come out on top. Home or away, the Celtic sides came off second best – in many cases by a considerable margin. Even in the so-called Anglo-Celtic Challenge, a battling Llanelli – for all their home advantage and huff and puff – came a poor second to a Wasps team missing many of its stars. When the Turks pressed hard and rallied in the second half, the side from Wycombe always had plenty in the tank to surge ahead, playing well within themselves.

Stories from England abound on the increase in season ticket sales on record sales last season. Following an increase of 12% last year, latest reports show a 19% increase this year! The ZP will kick off this weekend with a record crowd of over 50,000 at Twickenham – could a Llanelli vs Cardiff and Ospreys vs Llanelli double header attract even half that figure? Details in the Welsh press are scant – despite desperate attempts to over exaggerate on season ticket figures (Llanelli’s season ticket holders number only 1,000 more than relegation bound Worcester). None of the four teams is proudly proclaiming even modest increases in season ticket numbers. Newport’s second XV have sold more than 1,000 season tickets for the coming season. There is little change on last season and no sign of Newport’s missing 3,000 supporters. Even compared with village league attendances three years ago (see our editorial) attendances are well down – particular due to the mismanagement of the situation at Newport. 2000-1 was a record season for ticket holders – since then Moffett’s presided over a reduction in attendances.

Financially, many ZP are finally breaking even – despite many doom laden predictions in recent seasons that they too were in financial trouble. Northampton have recently announced record profits – profits that Welsh clubs could only dream about. Meanwhile, limited TV coverage ensures the right balance between promotion of the sport and overkill. In Wales, Moffett has sold the soul of the game to the TV companies, and gates have plummeted. Saturday afternoon kick offs are a distant memory in contrast to the ZP. In a mad dash to boost short term finances and clear the WRU debt as fast as possible, he’s quickly destroying the soul of our game – its history, tribalism and traditional highly competitive nature sacrificed in favour of reducing the WRU’s historical financial mismanagement in racking up huge debts for the Millennium Stadium.

Moffett’s target of 8,000 per home game (incidentally, what Cardiff City count as season ticket holders) is a pipe dream, whereas in England, there is no sense that clubs are losing their identity sacrificed in some lemming type dash towards oblivion. “If one suffers, we all suffer!” seems to be the creed of Moffett and his cronies in the press. This farcical idea of inclusion was put into place at the Warriors and what happened? The club went bust. It was put in place at Newport and a forced amalgamation with Ebbw Vale and what happened? Season tickets down. Not content with destroying Ponty and Bridgend, and impoverishing Newport, now Moffett is attacking Cardiff with an ignorant attempt to water down any sense of identity with the club in the nation’s capital city. Cardiff doesn’t need to spread its efforts even more thinly to attract supporters – it needs to attract those right on its own doorstep!!

Meanwhile, successful clubs like London Irish are growing from strength to strength – playing in first class stadium, in front of record crowds and NOT having to sacrifice the name or tradition of the club. In England, success has been built on traditional clubs – Bath, Northampton, Gloucester, Leicester etc.. There is no sign of these proud organisations throwing away their identity, just because London Scottish and Richmond folded due to bad financial planning. In Wales, there seems a curious logic that because some clubs could not compete financially, all must somehow sacrifice their future.

In England, more and more clubs are reporting black balance sheets, high quality overseas players are welcomed with open arms, and clubs are rewarded for producing English internationals – not penalised as in Wales. Top players are limited to a maximum of 32 matches for club and country with clubs receiving £30,000 for each player they provide to the élite squad and £10,000 for a representative in the national academy.

What does the RFU do for the clubs in England? Do they insist on clubs amalgamating? Do they threaten clubs identities by enforcing meaningless recycled names? No. Each Premiership club receives £5 million from the RFU this season to help to pay elite salaries. This is in addition to the £1.9 million for each of the 12 clubs from central funds to cover basic salary costs for all players. In addition, there is an ‘upside’ payment: a contribution based on TV monies, sponsorship deals and the like amounting to £3.5 million.

Meanwhile, Welsh clubs play in a sponsorless league, with match times designed to minimise revenue through the turnstiles and maximise reliance on a crazy Union-negotiated TV deal, have their identity undermined and destroyed and finally receive no reward from the Union for producing the stars of the tomorrow. When we hope for an independent press to report on these difference, we are fed a regular diet of spin and no substance.

And the saddest thing of all is that deep down – despite Moffett’s attempt to whitewash the situation – the press know that traditional rivalries are what sell papers. When it suits them, their happy to give the approaching Cardiff vs Newport game, its true billing as one of the oldest rivalries in rugby.

Whatever happened to survival of the fittest? Abandoning one of the fundaments of sport – winners win and losers come nowhere – led us to this situation. 16-1 …. The scoreboard never lies.

Give Youth a Chance

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Dear Rudy,

A Happy New Year to you!

New Year is traditionally a time for New Year’s resolutions, so here’s some ideas for you when you draw up your list for 2002.

When you arrived at Cardiff Arms Park you inherited a poorly coached and poorly motivated squad, riddled with serious injuries to important players and faced with a fixture list that allowed little time for preparation.

Pre-season, you promised us an open style of rugby with youth given a free hand and a low penalty count in every game we play.

At present our open style is based more on the limitations of the outside half – he can’t read a game and just shovels all sort of bad ball onwards. In league, this may be acceptable, but he’s still way off the mark in ensuring victory for the team. Would we have lost in Glasgow and drawn at Bridgend if Jinx had been playing?

As for giving youth a chance, sadly so far this season has been one of missed opportunities.

Our back row injuries should have been a signal for Dan MacShane to play more games for the first XV, or even Luke Tait to get a chance. However, journeymen like Mounier and Appleyard have been preferred. Whilst Appleyard’s commitment has been admirable, he’s about as effective as a chocolate teapot at openside and the progress of Sowden-Taylor has been stifled. Greg Woods is another who needs to get more games under his belt. Why not give the youngsters 20 minutes at least?

Turning to the backs, we have an excellent player in Owain Ashman who is also not getting first XV games. He is surely a better player than Henry jnr and represents the future of the club. Furthermore, Allen in the centre is so inconsistent – when will we see the Robinson brothers in tandem?

Cardiff fans have been excited by the emergence of these youngsters yet they have not been seen. Other youngsters lie waiting in the wings, yet we plead with you to give Ashman and Sowden-Taylor their chance.

Turning to the question of penalty count, there is clearly so much more to do at the club. Whilst the standard of refereeing week in week out in the Village League is no better than frustrating, players’ discipline is poor. We are giving too many unnecessary penalties away. Furthermore, unforced errors due a lack of concentration are costing us points.

Complacency is clearly our biggest threat and the signs are already there of players getting picked “automatically” and not being forced to play for their places. The basic skills in the back line – passing and kicking – are still dreadfully poor, and this surely reflects on a sloppy approach and poor discipline in training.

Whilst the squad is not yours and you have undoubtedly inherited the complacency of previous seasons, you’ve also inherited a classy squad with a good mix of youth and experience.

Please make the following resolutions for 2002 …

1. Discipline – players must not give away meaningless penalties and possession through sloppy play.

2. Increased competition – nobody gets picked on reputation …. they have to earn the right to wear the jersey.

3. Youth – give youth a chance!

4. Away wins – some of us follow the club all over Europe ….. we put in the effort away from home and we expect your players to do the same!

Village League Predictions

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Bridgend

This season the pressure will be on Dennis John and Richard Webster to coach to success their expensively gathered squad. Last season, when the squad was a gathering of cast offs and nearly-men, Bridgend always benefited from the element of surprise. They will have no such luxury this year. As the newfound Chequebook Charlies of Welsh Rugby, Bridgend will be the team to beat and success will depend upon whether Dennis John can coach international-grade, well-paid players. International call-ups will also hurt the squad, as will Budgett’s medical bill. BUPA will have to relocate to Bridgend. Benefactor Leighton Samuel has already called into question the point of the Celtic League, pspectatorserring to pick his big names for the Village League.

Questions:

  1. Can Dennis John coach well paid players?
  2. Do they have a pack of forwards and in particular, is there enough cover at second row and scrum half?
  3. How will they fare in Europe?
  4. Will anybody turn up to watch them?
  5. How often will Budgett be injured?
  6. Will they field two back lines?

Signings: Dafydd James, Gareth Thomas, Nathan Budgett, Deiniol Jones, Jon Thiel, Joe Clark, Cerith Rees, Christian Loader

Departures: Simon Hill, Gareth Lewis, Lee Manning, Craig Hawkins, Andrew Jenkins, Marvin Thomas, Ken Morris, Steve Ford

Last Season: 5th in Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 3rd in the Village

Caerphilly

Despite the awful ground (although the new building work is trying to improve it) and the part time playing

staff, Caerphilly still manage to be in the fixture list, acting mainly as a squad fixture for the bigger boys. The real battle for the Cheesemen will be to beat Ebbw Vale twice and hope to shock the Scottish teams, in order to remain off the bottom of the pile. We could be traveling to Vicarage Road, Loftus Road or The Rec instead . . . . . . . .

Questions:

  1. Why?
  2. Will the Cardiff fans manage to make it out of the bar this season?
  3. How will they manage without Chris John?
  4. Will the Mad Kiwi be the best player?
  5. Why?

Signings: Rory Greenslade-Jones, Matthew Taylor, Stuart Lawrence, Damien Geraghty, Ken Morris, Paul Jones, Martin Llewellyn, Seremai Bai, Dean Colclough, Emori Katalau, Allen Chiltern, Simon Grainger, Adrian Evans, Brett Scriven, Darren Davies, Mike Buckingham

Departures: Alfie Mocelatau, Sean Marshall, Chris John, Jonathan Hooper, Chris Bridges, Mike Wilson

Last Season: 10th in Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 10th in the Village

Cardiff

With a list of injuries Budgett would be proud of, there’s more Cardiff players in The Heath than on CAP. The squad looks weak in the back row and Dan’s injury will severely limit our chances in Europe. Huge gamble with Iestyn when maybe 4 grafters would have been a better investment. And then, as we all know, you can’t win anything with kids.

 

Questions:

  1. How will Iestyn Harris perform?
  2. Will Rudy be able to temper the egos?
  3. How badly will injuries affect the team?
  4. How will the kids do?
  5. Will Rudy be gone in 60 seconds?

Signings: Iestyn Harris, Matt Allen, Adam Jones, Rob Appleyard, Craig Hudson

Departures: Gareth Thomas, Mike Voyle, Damien Geraghty, Simon Grainger, Mike Rayer, Greg Kacala, Wayne Fyvie, Owain Williams, Steve Moore

Last Season: 2nd in Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 5th in the Village

Ebbw Vale

Hello Mr. Russell! Some might say they should not be in the League at all, and have to thank the General Committee for running scared for that. It makes you wonder- wallor no wall – what Ebbw are doing in the league at all. They will boast a whole new squad this season as Mr. Russell has got his Switch Card out to sign some nearly men from other Welsh clubs. Hey now Mike, these players are your choice, so get them training every morning. Gloryawaits! This season we can judge your coaching skills. So far you’ve cast no shadowon any trophies, but will there be champagne(supernova) at the end of the season? Like a punch drunk boxer, Ebbw will have to roll with itthis season. They are bound to produce a shock victory on a rain washed Wednesday night but with a poor squad and an awful away record Vale will be preparing themselves for Division 1.

Questions:

  1. She’s electric- isn’t she?
  2. Who will be the team they will beat in the rain and the dark?
  3. Will Ooh Kevin Ellis be the best player?
  4. How many will sign up to the Village Pass for free ‘rugby’?
  5. What’s the story, morning glory?

Signings: David Weatherley, Rhys Williams, Will Thomas, Peter Sidoli, Jonathan Evans, Scott Mitchell, Neil McKim, Kati Tuipolotu, Martin Jones, Matt James, Aaron Takaranki, M Ridley, T Bagg, O Booyse, K Ellis

Departures: Nathan Budgett, Deiniol Jones, Richard Smith, Jason Strange, Mark Jones, Jonathan Hawker, Leyton Phillips, Andrew Peacock, Matthew Taylor, Shaun Connor

Last Season: 11th in Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 11th in the Village

Llanelli

Tipped by many to be Champions because they signed an American and a Bristol reject (another!, sorry Leigh Davies). The loss of Dafydd James may be tempered by the return of the Easterby brothers, but a weak back line and the staid coaching of Gareth Jenkins will not improve the Turks that much. As they are always difficult to beat in Turkey, the game against Cardiff in October will be very interesting. The success of the WRU darlings will depend on the form of Pies Senior and the form of the spectatorserees (they may struggle with independent spectatorserees), but it will be interesting to see how Marlboro Wyatt performs.

Questions:

  1. How many cards will Finau get?
  2. Will the fair weather fans return?
  3. Who’s got a worse habit, Owain or Chris?
  4. How many tackles will Mark Jones make this season?
  5. How the Turks play better at home against Leicester than they did against Glawster last season?

Signings: Luke Gross, Scott Morgan, Gareth Bowen, Delme Williams,

Departures: Dafydd James, Robert Mills, Mike Buckingham

Last Season: 3rd in Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 4th in the Village

Neath

With a summer to rival Bridgend’s in the Chequebook Charlie stakes, the pressure will really be on Lyn Jones this season. As he bottled out of the Cardiff job he may be unsure of his ability to coach star players, but the return of Granddad and Barry “Suits You, Sir” Williams will strengthen the squad (and weaken the already negative Bank Balance!). Just where is all that money coming from? A full first team looks strong on paper and Neath should be strong enough to challenge Cardiff for the last European place . . . . . . always supposing they are not spending money they don’t have!

Questions:

  1. How long until the friendly bank manager says “No”?
  2. Do Neath have enough money to catch a plane in Europe?
  3. What will Lyn Jones say this year?
  4. How often will Granddad be injured?
  5. Who controls the club – the rugby or the cricket?

Signings: Allan Bateman, Barry Williams, Lee Jarvis, Shaun Connor, John Slade, Andy Moore, Alfie Moclelutu

Departures: Tristan Davies, Mefin Davies, Mark Davies, Delme Williams, Darril Williams, Geraint John, Kati Tuipulotu, Andy Booth, Adam Jackson

Last Season: 6th in Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 6th in the Village

Newport

Should Shane Howarth stay fit Newport will be real contenders for the title. Allan Lewis produced an excellent pack of forwards last season but a woeful back line, so the purchase of a further two South Africans should put that right. Ian Macintosh has much to do with a lumbering back line that lacks pace, but Joost Van NatWestBankherhuizen will add bums to seats. Ten man rugby should be played at Rodney Parade (a name change must be in order?) – anything to keep the ball away from the centres.

Questions:

  1. How much will Teichmann be missed?
  2. How much can Ian Macintosh improve the back line?
  3. How many games will NatWestBankherhuizen play?
  4. How much petrol is left in the Bandwagon?

Signings: Joost Van Der Westhuizen, Chris Anthony, Jason Strange

Departures: Gary Teichmann, Scott Mitchell, Neil McKim, David Gray, Paul Jones

Last Season: 4th in Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 1st in the Village

Pontypridd

A difficult team to judge, because they always play with verve and vigour and with a full first team squad are always difficult to beat. Despite claims that they develop their own talent only, the Solo card has been out for a good signing in Mefin Davies but the jury is out on the ex-Cardiff player Baber. Injuries will always hit Ponty hard and as the progresses Ponty will struggle. The set up at Ponty is not the best, but the Montego is wound up and ready to keep the pitch flat. The eloquence of Richie Collins will encourage his troops, but expect them to struggle after Christmas.

Questions:

  1. How good is Alex Lawson?
  2. What is the back up in the squad once the injuries set in?
  3. How long will they keep up the enthusiasm before the flame dies?
  4. How much fuel is left in the Montego?

Signings: Mefin Davies, Gareth Baber, Duncan Bell, Nick Kelly, Sean James

Departures: Lee Jarvis, Christian Loader, Will James, Jonathan Evans, Lenny Woodard, Gary Beaumont-Smith

Last Season: 7th in the Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 8th in the Village

Swansea

They have only added two props to the squad in the summer and will regret this because of the injury to Mark Taylor and the loss of Weatherley. With the return of Arwel, will Henson play at outside centre to continue his education? Swansea are always difficult to beat at home – mainly because of the way the wind blows! – and Plumtree has taught them to play away from the coast as well. The departure of Clive Griffiths will be painful as defensive discipline may slacken throughout the season, but of more significance may be the failure to secure Cunningham. Although he may have struggled (which he always feared) he would have added a dimension to a staid line up that owes much to Charvis. Expect them to be overtaken by Newport this season.

Questions:

  1. If Charvis isn’t playing – will they lose?
  2. Who will be the first choice outside half?
  3. Who will play at outside centre?
  4. Who will maintain their defensive patterns without Clive Griffiths?

Signings: Johnnie Marsters, Andrew Le Chevalier

Departures: Chris Anthony, David Weatherley, Cerith Rees

Last Season: 1st in the Welsh Scottish League

Prediction: 2nd in the Village

Good enough to win some silverware?

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Each summer we’ve seen changes of personnel at the Arms Park with big names joining the squad as the club tries to buy its way to silverware. But this summer has been different.

So far there has been no Muller, no Quinnell to bump up the sales of season tickets. This time the club is finally investing in a top class coach and in graduates of it’s vastly successful youth structure.

Of course speculation continues over the arrival of Iestyn Harris but this guy has never played a game of union at a serious level and he could become the most high profile flop in the professional era. We may have to wait until the end of September to see him in Blue and Black, if at all.

The confirmed signings so far of Matt Allen, Rob Appleyard and Adam Jones shows the club working to a sensible plan and budget. As there is the agreement between clubs and Graham Henry that international players will be rested the week before internationals, it makes no sense to sign current internationals.

Indeed, Bridgend could suffer as Dafydd James and Gareth Thomas may only play 10 games for them next season:

Dafydd James £130,000 for 10 games = £13,000 per game
Gareth Thomas £100,000 for 10 games = £10,000 per game

So perhaps at last Cardiff have adopted a more sensible recruitment policy. Should Jenkins retire and Sinkinson regain his place in the Welsh team, the only real loss to the first team will be Howley so this must be the season that Ryan Powell grabs his first team chance.

There is now cover in the back row if Martyn Williams gains international selection, with Appleyard covering both blind and open side, Crazy Dan back to full fitness, Emyr Lewis wheeling on and the superb prospect of Sowden-Taylor breaking in to the first team. With the small glimpses of the youngster that we were privy to last season, it seems that he is what Wales has been waiting for – a quick and strong open side who looks like a centre, but can play the ball on the ground. Perhaps his biggest attribute is his height – at last a tail gunner in the lineout. Watch out for a first team back row of:

Adam Jones will fill the second row vacancy left by the departure of Vile but unfortunately may also turn out to be a clone of the NZ departee. Jones will have to fight with the Tait brothers to be Quinnell’s partner and Cardiff’s biggest weapon in the lineout. Luke Tait was not sent to further his rugby schooling down under for three months this summer because that would have damaged his chances of Welsh qualification. The club has long looked after Luke with rumours abound that the signing of John was to ensure that Luke would also become a Cardiff player. With a second row pairing of the brothers, an athletic set of forwards is guaranteed, but the big games will always include Quinnell.

The departure of Geraghty to Caerphily has left Cardiff with only two first team hookers so watch out for the rise from the youth team of a youngster, or perhaps the return from Bristol of Saul Nelson, an ex-Cardiff Youth captain. With the signing of Gary Powell for another two years along with the excellent Fourie, Cardiff are well placed for young props. Captain Dai will be around for this season at least, but his first team outings will always be limited by injury and perhaps Welsh Captaincy. The biggest battle will be for the hooker berth with hopefully the rejuvenation of Humph and a sensible lineout policy allowing ALP to concentrate on the loose head berth. Unfortunately, this is unlikely as ALP is considered a hooker in the Welsh set up and he now must play there.

At half back Cardiff look very bare. Howley and Jenkins both have two years left on their contracts and will of course be the first choices, but the back up for both is inexperienced and very young. Powell must improve dramatically, especially his passing and box kicking. At outside half, however, Cardiff are struggling and perhaps the club’s lack of cover for Jenkins is the biggest hint that Harris is on his way. In the meantime, however, Rhys Williams will probably cover with young Nicky Robinson as back up. Goal kicking will be the problem as will Harris trying to learn the most difficult position on a rugby field. Propping may be technical, but poor decisions from the outside half berth will lose the team the game.

The centres have been bolsted by the arrival of Matt Allen, who is a big crash ball player in the mould of the excellent Muller. Hopefully, the South African will extend his contract beyond the end of this season but in the meantime his Rugby League experience will help Iestyn Harris through this season. His influence on Jamie Robinson last season was clear to see and perhaps this year he will also have Rhys Williams and Owain Ashman as outside centre partners. Nicky Robinson is an inside centre allowing plenty of cover there, but jersey 13 has only Jamie as its obvious incumbent.

The back three has many permutations, but early on in the season the make up depends upon the fitness of Craig Morgan. August and September is his time of the year when the hard ground suits his speed but the knee injury sustained in Japan may mean that he misses out. The others in the back three include Ashman, Rhys Williams and the underrated Nick Walne. Of course we hope to see these players with the ball in hand much more often this season, as they all have electric pace.

On the surface, there seems to be little difference from last season with only two first team personnel changes up front. Forward play is key to modern rugby and the ball winning skills of both flankers combined with the devastation that Crazy can cause at number 8 will give Cardiff an excellent back row – something that has been missing for many years. Behind the first team, however, comes the biggest changes as there are no longer current internationals to step into the first team. A Welsh Scottish League team against Caerphilly may be:

15. Ashman, 14. E Jones, 13. J Robinson, 12. Allen, 11. Morgan, 10. R Williams, 9. Powell, 8. Lewis, 7. Appleyard, 6. Tait, 5. Tait, 4. Jones, 3. Fourie, 2. Humphreys, 1. Powell

This coming season, Cardiff could flourish as youth takes control and whilst this may be a team that will not win any honours, the style of rugby may at last be attractive.

But the key man for next year will be Rudy Joubert. If he can mould the individuals into a team – watch out European Rugby!

Front Row
1. Spencer John (28)
2. Andrew Lewis (28)
3. Kenneth Fourie (24)
Second Row
4. Craig Quinnell (26)
5. John Tait (28)
Back Row
6. Robin Sowden-Taylor (19)
7. Martyn Williams (26)
8. Dan Baugh (27)
Half Backs
9. Robert Howley (31)
10. Neil Jenkins (30)
Centres
12. Pieter Muller (32)
13. Jamie Robinson (21)
Back Three
11. Craig Morgan (23)
14. Nick Walne (26)
15. Rhys Williams (21)

Can Cardiff still win this season’s Village League?

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With a woeful try count and a season peppered with half-hearted displays, it says much for the alleged strength of the Village League that we’re still in with a chance of winning the title. However, with Newport showing signs of peaking and Swansea facing a very difficult run in to the season, there is there still a faint possibility of working a miracle?

Of the three teams tussling for the title, Cardiff have the easiest run in with only the small matter of Swansea at home and Llanelli away obstructing the chance to pile up the points – Cross Keys (A), Swansea (H), Caerphilly (A), Cross Keys (H), Llanelli (A), Caerphilly (H). This will give us a maximum possible 18 points to add to our present 33 points = 51 points

As for Newport, they too have a relatively easy run in, other than games against Swansea in St Helens and a difficult away trip to Glasgow with their “neutral” refs – Glasgow (H), Swansea (A), Caerphilly (H), Cross Keys (A), Glasgow (A). Win all these games and Newport too will finish the season with 51 points.

And so to the Mighty Whites, the team with the most impressive try count but the most difficult run in – Cardiff (A), Newport (H), Bridgend (A), Glasgow (H), Cross Keys (A), Neath (H). And then they may have that bastion of fair play, the WRUin, to thank for a tough Village Cup run in.

If Cardiff produce a miracle (on recent form!) and win against Swansea in Cardiff, then suddenly the picture looks very different. Newport too could conceivably win in St Helens, and suddenly we have three teams all with 51 points!

We all have to get behind Bridgend when Swansea visit the Brewery Field – that could be the crucial game for Cardiff.

Let’s not get too carried away here though because of the Mighty Whites prolific try scoring feats they are still favourites for the title. They can even afford to lose two of their remaining fixtures to their closest rivals, because of their vastly superior try count. Cardiff are going to have to rattle up the tries in the Cross Keys and Caerphilly games – something that is not beyond them, but on present form, unlikely. And then there’s the small matter of having to win at Stradey on the last day of the season, with an impartial referee, no doubt. Especially as Llanelli may have to win to secure a place in Europe – do you still have your boots, Mr Bevan?

Either way, expect a very tight finish this year, with try count likely to play a vital part in deciding where the title goes.

The message is that we all need to get behind the bois for every remaining game of the season. Forget Yoda, forget the disappointments of the European campaign, forget the fixers in the WRUin, let’s get out there and make some noise! Come on the bois!!!

Celtic League – Good or Bad Development

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At last the WRUin seem to have come up with an idea on how to inject some much needed life into a tired and predictable fixture list with real hope for change next season. Whilst we may not be getting a British League, it seems that a Celtic League is not so far away.

Contradictory stories still abound in the media but it seems that the first matches of the new league would be played on 25 August 2001. Fourteen teams – eight Welsh, two Scottish and four Irish will be spilt into two pools, with play-offs for the league title. Some reports say both home and away fixtures whilst others say not. The top two teams in each pool will go through to the semi-final. The Heineken Cup would not be affected and the existing Welsh-Scottish League would be moved to after Christmas, although it would be reduced from 12 to 10 clubs.

Try as we might, trying to fit all this into a season seems very difficult if there’s going to be 6 Celtic League games (no way to be home and away!) plus semi-final and final, same Europen Cup structure, and a further 18 games in the WSL. The Village Cup will have to go! Then there’s the question of the luck of the draw – firstly dictating which pool your team is drawn in, and then which teams you play away at – all a bit of a lottery! And finally there’s the prospect of playing one Welsh team five or six times in one season (once in the Celtic League pool, once in the CL Final, once in the European Cup and twice in the Village League and once in the Village Cup – if it servives!). And what about this Champion of Champions play off, we’re hearing about?

But there is a cost associated with these proposal and it has been estimated that an extra £100,000 will be needed to meet the travel expenses of the new Celtic league. Welsh Premier Clubs chairman Stuart Gallacher hopes this could be met by the increased television revenue and from sponsorship of the new league. Planely so far, the WRUin have failed to market the existing Wales-Scottish League to any potential sponsors – “We haven’t succeeded in getting a Welsh-Scottish League sponsor yet, but we are actively seeking one,” Geoff Evans said. Can we really expect anything different if the Irish join the League?

As expected there are already rumblings of discontent from amongst the amateur and semi-pro ranks. The Division One clubs association chairman, David Escott of Rumney, is quoted as saying, “I wouldn’t be surprised if some clubs in this division launch legal action over this.”

All this restructuring means that Caerphilly and Cross Keys (surely the two teams which finish bottom of the WSL) will be relegated to the first division – it seems Uncle Peter will get his wish! But you can’t help feel some sympathy with Dunvant’s Mark Perdue, their technical director of rugby, when he says, “The last time we were told this it was two weeks before the end of the season, so this is pretty good for the WRU. We use the Union as a personal motivation for the club. We’re determined to make ourselves as much of a pain to the Union as we can.”

A brief Introduction to rugby in Ireland

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Although the Irish Rugby Football Union was formed in 1874, club rugby had been played in the country for many years before that. Trinity College Dublin claims to be one of the oldest clubs in Ireland, having been formed in 1854, while North of Ireland FC soon followed in 1859.

Ireland played their first test match against England at the Oval in 1875, but it was not until 1881 that they first won a test, against Scotland at Ormeau in Belfast. During the 1880’s the four provincial branches of the IRFU first ran cup competitions and although these tournaments still take place every year their significance has been diminished by the advent of an All Ireland league. This was first held, with two divisions in 1990, and since then has developed to highly competitive four divisions. In the 10 seasons since its introduction the league has never been won by a club from outside of Munster, with Shannon laying claim to the title of greatest ever Irish club side by winning the title for four years in succession from 1994-1998.

The four provinces – one of which will form Cardiff’s opposition in the European Cup – have played an Interprovincial Championship since the 1920’s and continue to be the focal point for players aspiring to International level. Munster, Leinster and Ulster continue to be the strongest three with Connacht, in the west of the country traditionally the weakest. The top three provinces compete in the European Cup, which Ulster won in 1999, while Connacht take part in the European Shield.

As such, Irish rugby is based on a pyramid system – clubs, provinces and internationals. The IRFU decided that in the professional era they would make the 4 Provinces (Ulster, Leinster, Munster & Connacht) professional with the clubs remaining in essence amateur/semi professional. During the summer months, each Province is told the size of its squad (approx 26) and all but two must have Irish connections (the grandparents rule comes into play). Also, all the squad must play their rugby in Ireland and preferably within the province for which they have been chosen.

Therefore the current Ulster side shows two non-Irish players (Ryan Constable and Grant Henderson) with the rest having Irish backgrounds. Shane Stewart, Brad Free, Russell Nelson, Andy Ward and John Campbell are non-Ulster born (Stewart, Ward – NZ, Nelson – SA, Free – Australia and Campbell – Dublin) but qualify. All except Campbell play their club rugby in Ulster but only at the completion of the Interprovincial Championship and European Cup competitions (or where there is a break in them like after the October European Cup dates).

1-Sept Ulster Munster
1-Sept Leinster Connacht
8-Sept Munster Leinster
9-Sept Connacht Ulster
15-Sept Leinster Ulster
15-Sept Munster Connacht
22-Sept Ulster Leinster
23-Sept Connacht Munster
29-Sept Munster Ulster
30-Sept Connacht Leinster

So the clubs will have them for roughly 14 games just before Xmas and beyond. Local players earn a contract (with the Ulster Branch) through performances at club level while perceived gaps in talent are filled by overseas (Irish and non-Irish backgrounds). Most of the current squad were retained from last year with only Stewart getting selected on the basis of his Ballymena club displays. The seven new faces are Nelson, Free, Constable, Henderson, Stewart, Boyd (originally from Ulster) and Campbell.

The squad cannot be added to during the season except in the case of injuries such as now with the loss of Dion O’Cuinneagain and Allen Clarke. Ulster may have one gap left for either of these positions. The provincial squads are limited in numbers – unlike the Welsh, French and English clubs – with a set wage structure that someone like Peter Muller would not get togged out for. Even Ulster’s international players won’t earn near what he is on, hence the attraction of the mainland.

For the record, the Interprovincial Cup starts on September 1st when Ulster take on Munster. Only when these fixtures start will we get a better idea of the relative strengths of the provinces ….

Thanks to Alistair at the unofficial site of Ulster RFC for helping us put this short introduction together.

A new stadium?

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Despite the news that Cardiff city have recently received a cash injection to improve their stadium, how long will it be before we are considering a move to the Bay with our footballing neighbours and a new stadium amongst the mud flats?

With Sam Haman’s professed ambitions for the Bluebirds, he will not be slow to realise that a new stadium may do much to capture the imagination of the public in Cardiff as he pushes the club on to the First Division and Premiership beyond.

As for the rugby club, the lease on the Forte Hotel near the ground is rumoured to expire shortly, and as the area is owned by the Athletic Club, huge revenue could be generated by selling the site to a developer for a new city centre hotel. Surprisingly enough, Peter Thomas is such a developer. With the south stand suffering from an advanced state of concrete cancer, the old ground is nearing need of serious investment.

On the positive side a new all seater in the Bay would mean a better playing surface, improved access and drinking facilities we could all enjoy. The image of the club would be improved and access would be easier.

On the down side, we’d lose the roots of our tradition and the memories of all those great players that graced the turf at the Arms Park – a name that is known the world over.

How would you feel about a move to a new stadium?

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