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Supporter Q&A - May

Community | 28th June 2022

Cardiff Rugby Q&A – Richard Holland, Dai Young, Gruff Rees.

Richard Holland welcomed supporters to the Sir Gareth Edwards’ Lounge for the Q&A and apologised for the short-notice of the event, which will be planned with much more notice in the future.

The Cardiff Rugby chief executive also acknowledged CEO newsletters had not been as frequent since coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the club had instead included a CEO welcome in every home match-day programme. However, the club will now produce a CEO newsletter at least quarterly.


RH: It’s important for me to stress on the front end that we're coming out of a pretty interesting period to say the least.

As an organisation we've had to deal with a fair bit. The financial stresses coming out of COVID, the issues that the guys experienced down in South Africa, the COVID hospital here and playing at Rodney Parade, clearly there’s been a lot of disruption.

Covid itself and the implications on players and staff, the requirement for Gruff to head up the team to play out here against Toulouse and then Quins. It’s been a tricky, tricky period but we're still here, we’re still fighting 

It would be remiss of me not to address the current speculation in the media and the press release with regards to PRB (Professional Rugby Board). As you will expect, there’s not a huge amount we can say.

PRB is an environment to ensure that the professional game remains competitive and a report has been commissioned. The report contains a number of recommendations to the PRB on how improve the professional game. The PRB will make recommendations to the WRU board in due course. 


What is the aim for next season and how will you deliver upon it?

DY: I'm thankful for the opportunity to speak to the supporters this evening because it's my responsibility to get it right. I've got no doubts in my mind, we will get it right but there is no quick fix.

The aim doesn’t really change. Obviously, what we're looking for this season, next season is to be a consistent Champions Cup team. That is the aim. It’s been made a little bit different and more difficult this season with the inclusion of the South African teams. 

The history tells us we've only got in via the back door once or twice in the last four or five years. 

That's when they've extended from six to eight and so on. You add the South African provinces into that and it makes it a little bit tougher.

So obviously everybody wants to win things, but I think we've got to have realistic goals and that's for us to qualify on a regular basis for the Champions Cup.

The Welsh Shield is obviously the aim for us. We want to be the top Welsh region, which gives us qualification. 

Richard has touched on how difficult this year has been. It's not an excuse, it's a fact.

We were pretty happy with the first five weeks, then we had something like 10 weeks without a game. There was the quarantine issue and then with covid cases the difficulty was getting meaningful training sessions.

Because of COVID and so on, you couldn't do any real lineout strategy, defending lineouts, scrummaging or contact area and if anything, I probably got that wrong. I was a little bit too compliant and did what I thought was needed because I didn't want any more games called off.

We operated to the absolute letter of the guidelines and in hindsight that caught up with us. 

So we had very little meaningful training. Then we had something like four weeks and another game called off, then what we've had now, 12 weeks of games on the bounce.

We needed to get that preparation in but we've probably gone into games a little bit undercooked for various reasons through this period.

It may not feel like it now, but hopefully this will make us stronger. As a group, nobody likes losing and nobody likes where we are and we should be better. I take full responsibility for that.

We've got a decent squad and if you look at the age dynamic of our squad, 13% is between 21 and 25, and 29%, is between 22 and 25 so 42% are under 25.

These problems are only going to get better, and I think that gives us real hope going into next season. Some of the younger players with more experience, more games, and we're going to get better.

We’ve also got a new attack coach this season, and it's been a really fragmented season. It's hard to get that identity across while we've also struggled with consistency of selection.

All fingers crossed we don't have another season like this next year. With a good pre-season, a full review on everything we've done in training, what we can do to improve etc, and I genuinely believe our youngsters will get better. 

Hopefully we can start well and build confidence and belief. As a team, don't forget we have four quality new players coming in. They will bring experiences from different environments, which we haven't really got with more than 65% of the squad coming through our pathway, which is a big tap on the back for Gruff, but other experiences or players that come from other environments, playing in other leagues, will benefit us.


Richard, one of difficulties this year is the fact there's no set budget yet, why aren't we making more of it in the public domain?

RH: I can assure you, there is a lot of work going on in terms of Alun (Chairman), myself and Neil our Finance Director trying to get hold and sight of that locked in budget. 

It links to overarching strategy but it makes putting our own strategy in place very difficult when obviously one doesn't exist for the professional game.

As an organisation, we have chosen not to hang our dirty laundry out in public but we are having those discussions behind the scenes. I believe we are getting close to a place where we will receive it.

It makes things difficult for Dai, we meet regularly and he asks for direction on what we can spend and what we can do. It's very difficult for me to give answers, I can't because we don't know.

It is a frustration but there’s an acceptance from PRB that we need to have sight of finances for a minimum of three years, possibly five, to let the professional sides strategise properly.

Working in an organisation when you haven’t got sight of your finances is very difficult, it is unsettling and the quicker PRB can lock those things in then the better that is for everybody involved.


Will we see an increase in the number of academy players used in the first team squad, ahead of some of the more expensive, older players on the fringes?

DY: There is still a big gulf between the semi-pros and the pros.  We certainly have a duty of care as well to these young players, to only put them in when they are ready.

Gruff is doing an excellent job with these guys coming through, but we also want to take away any expectancy from these guys and make sure they are earning their stripes. That Cardiff jersey is precious to me and we can’t just give it to people, you have to earn it. 

The pathway is there for Academy players. They do their age-grade, they go through the academy and then going into the RFC. The pathway is clear. 

In the RFC there are some excellent semi-pros to learn from because we do not believe a team that gets battered every week is the way for our kids to learn.

It's great that they obviously won the league this year, and deservedly so. I think Gruff will put a bit of meat on the bones, but all the academy players have been within there and at a pace we believe is right. 

They need to play rugby without a shadow of doubt but there are other parts of their development to keep working on alongside their rugby. 

Someone like Theo Cabango is a prime example – he earned his stripes in the RFC, which was his first exposure to men's rugby. He’s earned his stripes, came across to the firsts, and he is now at the point where he is there every week. 

There are guys who probably would have been involved more if I'm honest if they hadn’t been injured. Efan Daniels had one game, got injured but would have had more opportunities.

Mason (Grady) has been involved and we have massive hopes for him but he has just come back from knee surgery. He came back for the RFC for a couple of games, got injured again and after two weeks we have got him involved at the first opportunity. 

Teddy Williams has had opportunities, Gwilym Bradley has had opportunities and the only other one who is really on our radar right now is Jacob Beetham but we’ve struggled to get him in due to injuries. He came back for the RFC but his ankle is not 100 per cent right. 

We’re certainly not going to chuck an academy player into the environment when his ankle is not 100 per cent right. We are investigating that.

Gruff can talk more about the next cabs off the rank because we believe there are players coming behind, like Cam Winnett for example, who will follow this same process. Earn your stripes, play men’s rugby, make your mistakes and improve, get more experience and transition to the firsts. 

We want the team to look different in 12 to 18 months because experienced youngsters who have been put in too early and bounce out, don't come back. 

Something that we constantly talk about every week is development, both of us are really committed to bringing through our own players but I will say that with us not playing over internationals, you don’t need a 50-man squad. It will be tougher for academy players to come through. For someone to come in, someone needs to go. 

We’re definitely going down the right path and that relationship has worked well this year.

GR: It’s a good environment in the building to almost dampen the enthusiasm of a young player, it is about earning the right because historically, you could perhaps argue that players believe they had made it once they make it to the academy.

My last development experience at the Ospreys – your Becks, Tipurics, Webbs – the majority of those guys played 50 odd Premiership games before coming into the first team. 

I’m not saying the Premiership is the perfect model but I’m very happy that we have got a grip of it because we can see guys like Cabango on a consistent basis - when to take him out, when to integrate him with the first team regime etc. It's a completely different training load but we use a lot of objective data to make sure they come through at the right time and are playing regular rugby at the right level. 

We have to manage the players effectively so they can compete effectively. For example, Alex Mann has to prove he is better than the first team back-rowers. That's the harsh reality for academy players that my staff and I must embrace.


And how do you see that realignment of the first team and Rags progressing?

GR: Just to do it was a massive undertaking.  I think we started discussing it pre lockdown, but it was a no brainer.

In my job we were getting hugely frustrated that academy players, despite what has been said publicly in the media, weren't getting rugby in Merthyr, they weren’t getting rugby in Pontypridd. Even at Cardiff, we had our own frustrations internally in terms of who was playing with who. So from a rugby alignment point of view, it does give us a grip of things.

There’s no doubt the Premiership could be bigger and better in some ways and as Dai said, it is a big bridge at the moment. 

But it's something that's been pleasing for us from a rugby alignment point of view, our coaching and the transfer of information through the building, dropping players in and out to suit their development needs at any given time, let alone the business and commercial reasons. 

As Dai said, we meet every Monday to discuss the players and then monthly on a strategic basis, looking at the budget, who fits in the squad in the right development sense. 


Why were the whole squad given contract extensions during Covid?

RH: It wasn’t all of the squad but yes, it was at the beginning of Covid when ourselves and PRB entered into discussions with the WRPA over the salary cuts, which were needed across the organisations.

One of the elements that was implemented in that negotiation was for players to extend their contracts for a year in return for accepting that 25% pay cut.

It is worth adding that the cuts weren't just for players, they were across the organisation over a certain salary threshold. 

Some players chose not to accept, Cory Hill is an example of that. He left because his contract was in default. We extended others as part of that agreement with the WRPA and PRB. The question being raised is if the other regions did the same and I don't know the answer to that. If they haven't, then it's up to PRB to address that with each region.

We did what was asked of us in terms of the agreement and our board felt that it was the right thing to do, despite it being embedded into the agreement, to look after our employees and give them something in return for the sacrifice they made in order to help the business navigate through what was a very, very difficult financial period and it continues to be.


We seem to fall away in the second half of games. Is that down to tactics or fitness? And what has gone wrong with our defence and why are we conceding so many points?

DY: It's a bit of both and we can't hide the fact that fitness comes in many guises. We came in last season and looked into fitness and felt there were aspects that we needed to improve. Certainly running volumes was something we felt we needed to improve.

When I came on board, I felt as if I had walked into someone else’s house - it's the same staff and the same players. So I had to look objectively at how to move things forward.  

There’s bits and pieces we can get better at and fitness is one of those things. We felt we had moved things forward until quarantine and since then we haven’t managed to get it back. 

In reality, it’s the last 20 minutes of both halves where we fall away. We start really well but it looks a bit like a welterweight in a heavyweight division. We give it our all but we punch ourselves out and we’re pretty much gone in the last 20. 

When I came in, I had to look at the group we’ve got and come up with a plan of how we win games. What we know is if a team goes to Plan B, which is kick pressure, keep it tight, scrum etc, we probably haven't got the physicality to match that.

If you look at our stats our tackle busts, which is essentially breaking tackles and collision dominance, we are the lowest in the league but we create more line breaks after four phases than most. That’s the best part of our game, so we need to get to situations where we can stretch teams because we haven’t got the physicality to keep it tight or enough players to bust tackles. 

Our best course of action is to fill the field and play to a structure that will create opportunities but that requires high skill levels and high fitness levels. As you’ve seen, if we score a try, we generally work our socks off for it.

Our fitness levels still need to come up and our skill levels need to improve and that will come because we are putting so much time into it. The physicality side of things is something we've got to try and address within the group. 

On defence, an interception try or five-metre driving lineout, that's not really the fault of the defence coach.

If you look at what we do, we plot how teams score tries, what is the source of possession, how did they score and sometimes it is just good play but big percentages come down to us. Us giving away the ball, over-playing, giving away a penalty, which gives them field position.

We are defending for large parts of the game and that physicality drains us. You can see in the last 10-15 minutes of halves that we are struggling. 

Make no bones about it, certainly in recent months every team we've played has been bigger than us up front and quicker than us behind.

So it's not an easy task and that's why we're trying to navigate through this. The four players coming in next season can help some of that, some of the training we’re putting in, which we aren’t seeing come to fruition at the moment, will start filtering though.


You mentioned the four new signings. I assume Lopeti Timani has been brought in for that physicality?

DY: Yes, exactly. People have identified that he’s not much of a line-out forward, but we haven’t brought him in for that. 

He’s got to be able to take line-out ball, of course he has, but we have got guys within our squad who are recognised line-out operators and leaders.

What we haven’t had enough of is collision dominance on both sides of the ball. We need someone who can take us forward and also stop them from moving forward.

I don’t want to get into details of individuals, because that’s not fair, but someone like Josh Turnbull, when he’s played in the second row, he has given us an added physicality that’s perhaps over and above what second rows might give on a week-to-week basis. He’s always one of our top carriers and one of the most physical tacklers.

Lopeti will bring that to us. He’s got an edge, the physicality and then winning the line-out is our next job, but we have to work on that with other people.


And Richard, just going back to the strategic side of things, there's a couple of questions around the long term strategy of the company, which has obviously been difficult with the uncertainty in Welsh rugby and the pandemic. Will we see a revised strategy?

RH: We've got our own strategy in terms of the Cardiff Rugby Way that we manage as an executive team. But as I said earlier, in terms of the higher-end strategy, we're waiting from PRB to see what that looks like. From a rugby perspective, we know what we want to do in the next three years, and Dai has already alluded to the Champions Cup qualification side of things.

You look at where the four Welsh regions are, you've got the Ospreys at the moment top the pile of the Welsh Conference sitting in ninth, so they're not even qualifying for Champions Cup as of right.

So yes, we can strive to be the best in Wales in order to qualify, but you put the current squads together and look at the URC, with the addition of the South Africans, and it's tough to get into the top eight. 

Is it realistic to expect to reach the knockout stages given the resource available to us at the moment? No. 

In terms of the strategy, we've obviously aligned recently with Cardiff RFC and the vindication of that decision is obviously in winning the Premiership. It would be remiss of us not to congratulate Gruff and Spot [Steve Law] for that achievement. They could’ve done the double in 2020, but unfortunately Covid got in the way.

We've got a strategy for commercial, for marketing, for the community and as the management team we deliver that on regular basis. 

We need a direction from PRB moving forward and that can hopefully come as soon as possible to enable us to turn the corner for the Welsh professional game and so a region or a couple of regions can go out and be competitive in both the league and in Europe.

That's what the supporters want, that's what we all want and we just need the direction and strategy to help us achieve it.


There are also challenges around development at the moment, where clubs, colleges and universities in England are looking at the success of our age grade teams and are able to offer educational opportunities.

GR: Yes, it's interesting. Last night our Under-16 South and North teams played against each other and the Arms Park was littered with representatives from clubs across all range of the RFU and further, which is a backhanded compliment.

But it does present a real challenge for us. What we’ve got to do at this moment in time is redraw our work with the 16s to 18s group in general, across Wales, and drive something forward.

It’ll be hard but the Union seem to have a little bit of a soul search policy in terms of any guidance, support or vision. But internally we're trying to do a bit more quality assurance around what those programmes look like for our A licence schools and colleges. I think the perception of them rugby-wise and even academically probably suffers a bit compared to how people look at opportunities across the bridge.

As I’ve said before, players will want to look at different opportunities and see different things around their young careers. If they choose to move, they will get good educational opportunities across there, so we do try and work with every parent and player in terms of the best fit. 

The key challenge for us is to work around our talent ID process, expand our scouting network, which is something I’m keen for us to do but within that is to actually ring-fence a little bit of the budget and be creative around us not holding our hat on the standard academy contracts. We can actually be creative around different contracts. 

Players like Christ Tshiunza, for example, we missed out on which was partly educational, but there are means and ways that we do need to look at when it comes to the genuine talents - and if I'm honest, there aren’t loads around the lockdown generation and we are playing catch up for where we can be strategic in development.  

Maybe with some Cardiff Met players, there are one or two there where you've got a high ceiling and we want to perhaps hold something back so that we can go after those as and when we can.

RH: Just to expand on the strategy side, it's very difficult when you're constantly in survival mode. 

We've come through Covid, we were in survival mode. We haven't got sight of the bigger strategy, so we're still in survival mode. We're desperately keen as an organisation to really lock in the longer term plan.

But, when you don't know the key elements of what your financial budgets are going to be, it's almost impossible to plan. David [Allen], who has been a great addition to our Board as the supporter advisor, will testify that our Board meetings at the moment are very much based on survival.

Before COVID we had two board sessions, which the senior management came to, where we were looking to implement a long-term strategy. But then COVID hit and we still haven't really come out of that survival mode environment.


There was a lot of talk around the social that happened after the second Scarlets game. There was some discontent amongst the supporters, and I know you have your thoughts around that and the criticism that followed.

DY: I'm happy to take the responsibility for that. I totally get the frustration from the supporters. But I'd like them to see it from the players’ point-of-view as well. It’s something that I have addressed with the players and we totally understand the frustration. 

Firstly it's very difficult to time something where we can have an event if we win but if we lose, we won’t bother.

The one thing I will say from their point of view is, they asked a number of times whether they could organise a social this season because they hadn’t had one in two years due to Covid.

They wanted a little bit of bonding and togetherness. Repeatedly I had denied that ability because I didn't think it was going to be right during the middle of Covid. With everything that happened this season we could not afford any more postponements.

They asked for one after the Scarlets game and it's very difficult to predict how the performance and result is going to go.

Certainly there was no intention to annoy supporters. It was my suggestion to have it in the club. This is your club and also their club, and I thought that was a much better look, rightly or wrongly, than if the players went up to town.

It was behind closed doors, a part of their own club, so that was my doing. I certainly wasn't going to cancel it because we didn’t have the performance we wanted.

The players weren’t going in there skipping but it was something that had been over-due and was needed. The timing wasn’t great and I apologise if that offended people.

But I’d like to think that our supporters can also see it from the other side. I thought I was doing the right thing by suggesting to do it at the club, behind closed doors but it looks like I might’ve got that wrong.

However we also get criticism that the players never hang around at the club and the reality is, you can't have it both ways. We can't say to players that they must go into the club and have a drink if we win, but if you don’t you must go home.

We're all in it together and we all hurt the same. I’m happy to take the responsibility, and if I’ve got it wrong then I’ve got it wrong and apologise. 

It was certainly done with the best intentions and certainly not about rubbing people's noses in it.

RH: There’s not a huge amount to add about that, but I was asked about the social in the week's management meeting and I authorised it. 

It was quite straightforward and I spoke to Dai afterwards and said for me it was easy – if they lost, we’d be happy to buy a round of drinks but that would be it. If they won, they could have a free bar. So that was my position.

Just to expand slightly on Dai’s point, this is where they train, these are the rooms that they use on a weekly basis, it’s where, at the moment, they come on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and this is where they decided to stay after the game.

Was it the result that we all wanted? No. Did it antagonise certain people? Clearly yes, which is unfortunate but I, like Dai, authorised the event. 


We also have a question regarding kick-off times, the lack of consistency with them and the frustrations with Saturday nights.

RH: I was in a meeting with Martin Anayi (URC) and the CEOs from the regions a few weeks ago, and I put forward a proposal for him to take to the broadcasters in terms of trying to get some consistency for the regions.

There are two things worth putting out there. Firstly, the broadcasters pay the money and therefore dictate the matches they want at whatever given time. Secondly, our position in Wales is weakened by the fact that when we go to the negotiating table, we've got two regions who don't have primacy of contracts over their grounds due to football clubs.

Having said that, they now have a proposal that will hopefully have more attraction to create consistency in the kick-off times themselves.

It's a current workstream and we have another meeting in London with the URC next week. 

In terms of answering the question as to why it's the case, it's the broadcasters’ picks and choices but we are trying to find the solution.


In terms of improvements of facilities around the ground for supporters, we have seen some small changes but what else can we expect.

RH: We’re constantly improving. We’ve employed a full time staff member to be out there with the paintbrush and help it look nicer aesthetically. But the reality is that we need a new ground. We know that. 

We've got a three-year lease, and the easy answer is that it’s over to Prop Co. of Cardiff Athletic Club to deliver the new stadium that we all so desperately need. 

We can do refurbishments, give it a lick of paint and put temporary bar facilities in but I'm looking forward to Prop Co. reporting back, primarily to Cardiff Athletic Club and then to ourselves on what the new development might look like to house rugby for many years to come.

We do everything we can as an executive team to make the best of what we’ve got, also with limited resources, because a lot of our money goes on just keeping the place open if the truth be known. Whether that's fixing roofs, side panels, testing, we spend an awful lot of money just to maintain it as it is to be honest.


When is the Prop Co. report due? 

Simon Down: We’re (CAC) hoping to hear in the next month, Prop Co. will come to CAC management with their findings.

Can we have more understanding about who makes the decision as far as whether there will be three or four teams? Is it the PRB as a whole? Is it the WRU executive? Is there a vote on it? How is that going to work?

RH: The PRB will make a recommendation for the WRU Board to ratify.

I need to refresh myself with the Constitution, but I would like to think that the PRB has the best interests of Welsh rugby and will reach an agreed position and an agreed recommendation to take to the WRU.

If it doesn't, I guess that's one for the new PRB chair, Malcom Wall, to navigate through. But in terms of the actual constitution, if I can come back to you with what the voting processes look like?


My question is about culture. This year I was never more proud to be a Cardiff Rugby supporter than when we played against Toulouse and Harlequins. The matchdays were absolutely fantastic - the atmosphere, the effort that was put in. Even watching the RFC boys towards the end of their season, such as when we played Pontypridd in the penultimate game. The attitude and culture within those teams were absolutely fantastic. 

I contrast that with the last few games, particularly against Scarlets, where we shipped 49 points and it look like people didn’t care. That was the feeling the supporters around me and I felt. I felt really demoralised by the whole thing. How can you ensure that what we see is a culture like we've seen against Toulouse, Harlequins and Leinster - rather than what we saw against the Scarlets?

DY: You can’t ensure it, you’ve got to try to build it and drive it through.

If you look at some of the games that we played, they demonstrated that togetherness, drive and feeling for the jersey against teams like Leinster and Glasgow.

Nobody was more disappointed than myself and the coaches about that last 20 minutes against the Scarlets. It was unacceptable. 

We were totally deflated as a team, so I get why it looks like they didn't care but i’d like to think that isn’t the case.

What they do know now is that they need to fight to stay in this environment. If they don't show the required fight and the ability to stay in this environment, then they won’t. It’s as simple as that.

I believe that the last 20 minutes was hugely demoralising for everybody. The game was lost but some of the rugby we tried to play certainly wasn’t something we’ve coached. The ease of Scarlets scoring tries in the last 10 minutes is unacceptable and that’s something we’ve made clear to the players.

What I’ve got to try to do is find a balance, because you’ve got a carrot and a stick. If you hit someone with a stick all the time, they’ll stop responding.

You’ve got to understand where the group is, and if you keep hitting someone down and telling them they’re not good enough then they’ll end up accepting that.

Somewhere in the middle is about right, but confidence from winning and performing to the best of our ability will only breed that togetherness. Going back to the social, it’s stuff like that where you build a culture, an environment, togetherness and an attitude for the jersey.

We're building that through what we’ve done with the academy. When those boys come through, they’ve had to fight for the jersey and once they get it, they appreciate it and don’t want to let it go.

We’ve got to get that within the first team as well. The majority of them have been here for a long time. Nineteen have been here for more than four years and twenty three have been here for more than five years.

So that’s why, when I came on board, it felt like walking into someone else’s house. I’m not suggesting that we want to get rid of everyone, we don’t because there’s a good nucleus to this squad.

But the reality is, I’m trying to turn the focus on the players a little bit as well, because what we've had is the same players with the same results but with six different coaches.

At some point they need to realise that it’s time for them to perform and for us to recognise that supporters pay good money to come to see us perform. 

Performances and results are two different things. We didn’t get the result last week, but I was happy that they were out there giving everything. All I want is to look them in the eye and know they’ve given everything. If it’s not good enough on the day, then it’s not good enough. We’ll keep working and keep building to get it better.

But we’ve got to recognise that you’ve got to leave everything out there. Certainly in those two games we let ourselves down.

It’s something I won’t accept and I’d like to think that they’ve got that message now. What I don’t want to be doing is banging that message across all the time because I also need to support those players in getting better.

I don’t think it’s a case that they don’t try. What you’ll find is that fatigue makes a coward of us all. When you actually have nothing left, as they did in that game where we had a hooker and a centre in the back row, we were totally disjointed as a team. 

We should’ve done better, and I recognise that and it’s my responsibility to get it right, but I constantly address to the players that it’s not acceptable, in any game, for anybody to look at us and suspect that we’re giving anything other than 100 per cent.

That's the starting point for us, from there we actually improve the things that we do.


Are the errors that we’ve seen in games, such as losing our own line-outs, down to poor decision making or not being right on the pitch?

DY: It’s a bit of both again. What we are looking for within the squad is leaders. You look at the people who have left over the last few years – Sam Warburton, Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Nick Williams of this world. These are real leaders and when you get in those positions they make sure you come away with certain points.

What has been evident to me, and we have spoken about it, is that when we make mistakes it affects us too much. You see us making one mistake and our shoulders drop and it takes the energy out of the team.

We’ve scored two driving line-outs all year so the reality is that kicking to the corner and calling for driving line-outs every time won’t give us much. We need to try to play away from that. 

We are on occasions testing our skill level to play away from that. You look at the Ospreys and we played against them with the Welsh front five. Down at the Liberty earlier in the season we lost against them without them going past four phases. 

It would be three phases and kick or scrum or a line-out. We haven’t got that, so we need to expand our game but by doing that we’re making too many errors. 

What we constantly say is that once we’re down there (in their half) let’s stay down there. At the moment we’re constantly going for double tops, the miracle play and the best option we’ve got rather than keeping the ball, building pressure and momentum.

You look at Munster from a defensive point of view, they went through 17 phases for their first try. So structurally we were pretty good but we didn’t win one collision within those 17 phases, so we’re always defending on the back foot.

If you flip it over, we went 15 phases on two occasions but never went forward. That collision dominance is something we’re struggling with and we must work on. It’s something that boys like Taulupe Faletau will bring, James Ratti has done a great job for us but he’s been fighting a one-man battle.

Every time Ratti had the ball against Ospreys, you had two men tackling him because he’s our main ball carrier. If we get into a position where we have two or three big ball carriers, that’s when you’ll get your one-on-ones that create penetration.

There are a lot of things that we need to get better at but the main thing is collision dominance and any area around physicality we’re not getting on top of. It forces us into high risk rugby which drains us. 

The players become demoralised and when that happens it might look like they’re not trying but that’s not the case. They do want it, they’re doing extra sessions and can’t be doing more. 

It’s something that we need to realise. These boys will get better, there are a lot of youngsters among them. 

At times we have ten or eleven boys that go into the national squad but only three or four of them might be nailed on to play. The five or six that you would call fringe internationals will only get better.

One of the big things I was encouraged by when I got here was the togetherness, from Richard and the board at the top, right through to the rugby department and the supporters. We’re all in this together, we know where we are and that’s not where we want to be. We know it’s frustrating but we’re all in it together. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel, which might be a little further than we’d like it to be but we can get there together.


Rhys Carré has been outstanding, what’s been behind that?

DY: He’s shown what he can do in the last few games and what you want is consistency. It’s my job to get that out of them.

It’s very easy to get emotional about the Scarlets games, and no one was more so than me, but the reality of it is that none of the Welsh regions have done well in the URC. The only difference between us and Scarlets and Ospreys is that they won the derbies and we haven’t. 

That’s the main difference. None of us are miles ahead of the others, and if we were to play Scarlets again, I’d like to think it would be a better performance and a better result.

I was really disappointed with the performance down there. We’ve had two real highs against Leinster and Glasgow and two real lows in those Scarlets games. 

I'll address some of the away games as well, and it may not be what you want to hear but I'll always be straight with you. We go to Ulster and Edinburgh and the performances needs to be better but I’m not sure if the results will be. We’re playing against half the Scottish team in Edinburgh and Ulster have spent a lot of money. 

My view is that if they play the best they can and we do the same, they will win. But the disappointing factor for me is that we’re not performing to our best and that’s my job. 

If we do that we will win games, without a shadow of a doubt, and if we do that but still lose then we can accept that. The minimum required is that everyone is out there, fighting for the jersey and stepping up.

With the disruptions we’ve had, it’s been difficult. Like some of the set piece performances earlier on were better because we could work on them, but there were big periods where we couldn’t work on them much.

We haven’t got the experience to rely on within that department. We need to be really good at set piece as a pack and we’re only going to get that if we got time to work on it.

I’m sure you’re maximising the time with those coming through, and there are some cracking youngsters coming through, but it does seem that a chunk of the squad don’t perform well week-after-week at a regional level and we fall short. Is there are an active recruitment policy to replace the patch-over players? How far can you get with this squad?

DY: That observation is not far from mine, I believe there is a lot of the squad who haven’t reached their ceiling, when you’re talking about those youngsters.

Obviously it’s our job to get them to keep improving. I also agree that a number of them have reached their ceiling. Whether we’ll get them to improve a lot is doubtful. The reality is, I knew that when I stepped into the job.

I knew where we are, Richard has explained the situation and we need to work through what we’ve got. Hopefully the guys who haven’t reached their ceiling, we can keep bringing through.

We’ve got the least non-Welsh players in the squad of all the regions. I’m not advocating bringing in loads of overseas players, because that’s not the case, but I certainly believe that if we can supplement the quality Welsh players within our squad with four or five non-Welsh players, that could take us to another level.

It’s not a situation we can do now. We’ve got what we’ve got and it’s my job to get the best out of them.


What more could the club and supporters do to get more young people down on a regular basis?  It’s something Bath did really well during my time in university there, and when I bring my friends down for Friday night game they absolutely love it. It’s a good matchday experience but what more could we do?

RH: We proactively embed this into our marketing plans and strategy, trying to move the dial in terms of our demographic of supporters. They’re the future and we do a lot of work, linked with the work of the Foundation, in engagement programmes with schools and colleges.

It’s also linked to Gruff’s work and relationship with the universities, and we do know there’s a huge potential support base within Cardiff University, Cardiff Met, University of South Wales and Cardiff and Vale College etc.

We’re certainly seeing an increase in that demographic. 

From a pricing perspective, there is an affordable student pricing that’s in place to try to drive that traction. We’ve tried to modernise what was the Capital Corner, putting a DJ in, but I think that just annoyed everyone else! 

Mike Brown: In terms of the match-day experience side, it’s about delivering more consistency on a base level.

There are lots of little things that we get wrong, which are very frustrating, but the feedback we’ve had generally has been very, very good around matchday experience.

An independent company through the URC visited all four Welsh teams and we actually came second, which was a little disappointing. The main reason for that was one very low score around how we communicated access to the stadium, and how to find us. 

That was in part due to a section of the website that needed to be put back on due to the return of crowds but we also probably took our city centre location for granted. Had we got that right, we would’ve come out on top by a long way.

We’re fortunate to have a small, intimate ground which generates a great atmosphere even when half full.

On that side there are improvements we’re trying to make, lots of meetings scheduled in the off-season and we are heading in the right direction. 

In terms of the pricing, it’s not just for students now, we’ve extended that ‘student category’ into young adults up to 25 year olds.

As for the student market, it’s an area we’re massively looking to exploit but have never really cracked. We did a huge amount of work with Cardiff University pre-Covid but that fell away due to the pandemic and is something we need to pick up again this summer ahead of next year. I agree that there is a huge opportunity there to tap into the student market.

I would also point out that certainly during that first block of fixtures we felt there was a higher proportion of young adults and youngsters in the ground. That was something a few of us noted and as a result we analysed the data and found the percentage of those groups in our crowd was higher than previous seasons. 

We will look at that across the whole season and it is great to have more young people attending but I would also stress how important it is for us to cater to all demographics whether that is to retain those that have been coming for generations or attract new groups. 

RH: As we come out of Covid, there’s more and more we can do in terms of matchday experience and one thing we didn’t bring up earlier was access to the pitch post-game. The young supporters really enjoy that interaction with the players.

The players themselves are certainly getting into myself and Mike to try to go back to more of the commercial and community work that was in place because we almost forget that they’ve also been cocooned at times, whether that’s interaction with cooperate partners, our student market or supporters in general.

Rhys Blumberg: It’s worth mentioning as well that the 16-25 market is categorically the hardest market to crack. There’s nothing like it in terms of that demographic because they try to go to everything across the city.

One thing we have done is massively buy into university rugby. Gruff has spearheaded that from a performance perspective but Cardiff Met and Cardiff Uni have both played games here in the BUCS league.

We activate prolifically from a marketing perspective at those games and tell them about what we have to offer. 

But it is definitely something that we really welcome input on from the younger market as to how we can do things better.


You’ve spoken about bridging the gap between the Premiership and the first team at URC level. How do we do that? There have been comments around a potential A league within the URC.

GR: In terms of where we’re at on my end, coming out of lockdown we didn’t have much clarity or understanding in terms of what the Union wanted developmentally for those players who hadn’t had much competitive rugby over a couple of years. 

The Premiership was at least a calendar that we could get a grip of, support a team to a certain level for a few months to try to bridge that gap to the first team.

We’ve done that to a certain extent but there are more challenges ahead. We want to keep growing the Premiership, and there have been discussions around how that could change.

We actually think for a certain period coming out of lockdown that we need to keep pushing the Premiership agenda and push some Anglo-Welsh type stuff there too.

We can still use the Prem, but it still has its faults as well which we all acknowledge, and there are merits around having A league development games in the future.

But we can only plan and organise that around a calendar that’s aligned, not like in the past where we’ve had first team, A team and Premiership games on the same weekend. From a numbers point of view, no one can resource that in Welsh rugby.

In a couple of years, we’re trying to grow the game between 18-21 further, which might give us those questions and provide solutions, but at the moment we’re comfortable with the model that we’re pursuing.

RH: To answer the URC element, I haven’t been involved in any conversations with them around an A league sitting beneath the senior tournament. 

Just to expand on what Gruff said, I can give my personal opinion which is we've got the seniors and the Rags. The Rags won the Premiership and it would be brilliant to get an Anglo-Welsh competition where we’re potentially competing with some of the Championship teams in England.

Dai would be testament to that competition having spent time in the English Premiership but we say that with caution as it might not be as commercially successful as people think.

Cardiff vs Ealing or Doncaster could be good for the development side but at the moment there’s no conversations that I’m involved with in terms of the URC.

As I said earlier, in terms of the alignment which we moved to a couple of years ago, with the RFC becoming the development side, it was always going to be looked at by WRU and the other regions.

I think you’ll see others moving to our model, which would mean a higher standard of competition for them to play in will become important and – whether Premiership or Anglo-Welsh – making sure it’s meaningful as a proper development tool. The vindication of that happened last Thursday [against Merthyr].

Richard Holland wrapped up by thanking those in attendance and explaining David Allen’s role within the Board. The Chief Executive also urged supporters to become season members, as they make a difference to Dai and his team, the club genuinely appreciate it and they can help the club get to where they need.

Supporters can contact David Allen as their Supporter Representative to the board by emailing [email protected]