As the first half of Cardiff Rugby’s pre-season block draws to a close, director of rugby Dai Young is excited to put his stamp on the side over the coming season and believes there’s more to come from the squad at his disposal.
The squad have been hard at work over the last four weeks, with a particular focus on conditioning, but following a week of rest and recovery, they will return next week with pre-season clashes against Harlequins and Bath Rugby on the horizon.
Young made a return to the Arms Park last season on an interim basis but later penned a long term deal with the Blue and Blacks, where he has an illustrious history as both player and coach.
With his future committed to the club, Young has been encouraged by his side’s attitude and application in the first few weeks of training as the 2021/22 campaign draws ever-closer
“I’m really pleased with how the players have come back. It’s obvious that they’ve used their rest wisely by resting their bodies, recharging the batteries but also kept ticking over.
“I’m really pleased with how the first block has gone and they’ve had quite a bit out of the fitness block. They arrived in a good state, which has allowed them to really push themselves in that first block.
“Conditioning-wise I’m really pleased with what we’ve achieved, but we’ve also had the ball back in their hands as much as possible so we could start putting some policies in place.
“For the first four weeks we can be really pleased and we haven’t picked up any additional injuries.
“It’s been about outlining to the squad what’s expected of them and what their responsibilities are. It’s the same for the staff.
“We need to get the best out of this squad, and I don’t think we are getting the best out of this squad at this moment in time. The staff realise that and the players realise it.
“It’s about raising standards and making sure people are aware of those standards and the responsibilities they’ve got.
“We showed towards the end of last season that we’ve certainly got a group of players who will go out there and give everything for the jersey.
“You can’t coach that and that was really pleasing for me.
“We took lessons from the narrow defeats we had, we took that and changed them into narrow wins.
“There’s lots of parts to our game that needs improving but we all understand where we need to improve and want to work together to get there.
“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s the first time the players have felt they’re under a bit of pressure and we all need that.
“The environment was a little too comfortable and we need to understand that we have to deliver. Delivery and success come in many forms and my job is to get the best out of this squad.
“Whatever is the quality within a squad will determine what success looks like and it will also be the jobs of the players to get the best out of themselves and be the best versions of themselves.
“We’re not quite there and that’s the big focus going into the start of the season.”
Later this month, the squad is set to be bolstered by the return of the Wales internationals who were involved in the summer Test series against Canada and Argentina.
With the likes of Jarrod Evans, Tomos Williams, Ben Thomas and Matthew Screech among those reporting for training over the coming weeks, Young hopes they can use their experience in the Wales set-up to benefit the Blue and Blacks.
“It was great to have that many involved in the international set-up because you’ve like to think they’ll bring the standards from that set-up into club level,” added the former Wasps coach.
“That’s always exciting. You’d still like to think they’re coming back with points to prove and the best place to do that and push your hand up further is by playing well week-in, week-out for us.
“I’m really looking forward to getting them back in. It’s a tight block because they need a pre season after having their rest, the same as everyone else.
“But it will obviously be a little bit tight when it comes to getting their physical conditioning and their rugby up to speed ready for the start of the season.”
Having returned to the club during the 2020/21 season, Young has used this pre-season as an opportunity to further develop his tactical philosophies.
With Matt Sherratt also re-joining the Arms Park coaching team ahead of the new campaign, former Wales prop Young hopes to lay solid foundations in order to encourage an expansive, positive game-plan.
“If you look at my Cardiff and Wasps days, I’ve always believed that you want to play with ball in hand and play an expansive, multi-phase game that’s built on solid foundations,” explained the director of rugby.
“You’ve got to get the physicality on both sides of the ball and if you’re not physical then you’re not going to win games. It’s as simple as that.
“We also need to be strong in the set piece and that will be the challenges for us this year. We’re not underestimating it, we know where the challenges are going to be.
“Our defence was strong last season while our attack took a bit to get going, but we showed glimpses of how good we can be.
“We were inconsistent at set piece time, and that’s where the challenge will be, but it’s a challenge we’re looking forward to.”
Before Cardiff kick off their United Rugby Championship campaign, they will test themselves in two mouth-watering Anglo-Welsh pre-season fixtures.
A trip to Twickenham Stoop to take on Gallagher Premiership champions, Harlequins, is on the cards before Bath Rugby are welcomed to the Arms Park.
Young is confident the double-header will provide an exciting curtain raiser for supporters while also proving a valuable challenge to test his side.
The former Wales international added: “They’re two great teams and Quins had a fantastic end to their season so to be playing the champions will ‘be great.
“I don’t see our internationals playing for that game, and Quins are talking about roughly the same, but it will still be two strong teams who are eager to put into play what they’ve learned during pre-season, which is important.
“We’re then up against Bath at home and these are the fixtures that you can’t help but get excited about. It’s a bit of a local derby when it comes to Anglo-Welsh.
“They’re going into the season wanting to push things forward after probably not getting the season they wanted last season.
“We’re in a similar position and it will be a really good test for both teams and a really nice way to whet the appetite for the supporters who will hopefully be back for that game.”
Tickets are now available as Cardiff welcome Bath Rugby for a thrilling pre-season clash in the capital! Join us as fans are finally welcomed back to the Arms Park as this classic Anglo-Welsh rivalry is rekindled.