As the Blues yet another a Warnock?
DANNY Wilson’s first team selection since announcing he will be leaving Cardiff Blues at the end of the season has seen him make sweeping changes.
Even though the Blues claimed their first win of the league campaign away to Connacht last weekend, Wilson has decided to shake things up for the return to Ireland.
He has made no fewer than eight changes for today’s testing encounter with Munster at Limerick’s Thomond Park (1.30pm).
There’s a competitive debut for north Walian centre Jack Roberts, who came on board from Leicester in the summer, and a first start for flanker Olly Robinson.
The son of former England, Scotland and Lions coach Andy Robinson, openside Olly was brought in on loan from Championship club Bristol as cover for long-term injured duo Sam Warburton and Ellis Jenkins.
He impressed with his prodigious tackle count off the bench in last Saturday’s 17-15 victory out in Galway and now steps up to wear No 7.
There are also first starts of the season for fit-again winger Blaine Scully, who captains the side, halfbacks Tomos Williams and Jarrod Evans and second rows James Down and George Earle.
Young Rhun Williams continues at full-back and says the victory over Connacht has given the squad a welcome lift after defeats in their first three PRO14 matches.
“It makes a huge difference having won last weekend,” said the 20-year-old (pictured).
“The boys were all hungry for that first win of the season and it’s given us and the coaches a massive boost.
“It has seen more energy and enthusiasm in training and within the squad.
“But we know we have to put our heads down and put all our focus now on the Munster match.
“You know when you’ve got a trip away to Ireland that it’s going to be a tough one, whichever team you face.
“As a group, we are very close in terms of players and staff, and go into every game fighting for each other.”
Attack coach Matt Sherratt added: “Winning makes a massive difference. It’s a result based business. People come into training a little bit more buoyant.
“We’ve not gone overboard. You have to stay processed, because it’s too long a season to get too massively high or massively low after a result.
“We weren’t the worst team in the championship after Edinburgh and we’re not the best team in the championship after Connacht.
“We need to keep getting better every week, but having a win gives you a spring in your step and makes you look forward to the next game a little bit more.
“Munster are one of the leading teams in Europe away from home and they’re due to have their British and Irish Lions back playing.
“It’s a really competitive championship this season and it doesn’t get any more competitive than Munster away.
“But we have to go there, be positive and try to build on the Connacht performance.”
The Blues’ task is made all the tougher with Munster having their Lions contingent of Conor Murray, CJ Stander and captain Peter O’Mahony back on duty, while the Ireland front row trio of Dave Kilcoyne, Niall Scannell and John Ryan also returning.
There’s a familiar face in their second row, with former Arms Park favourite Robin Copeland making his first start of the season, while replacement back JJ Hanrahan is in line for his first Munster appearance since 2015 having rejoined from Northampton. AS Cardiff Blues ponder what sort of person to appoint as their next head coach, they could do worse than look at what’s happened half a mile down the road at Leckwith.
Not at Canton RFC but Cardiff City Football Club, reinvigorated and top of the league because of the know-how, passion and total authority of one man – Neil Warnock.
There is a snooty disdain for all things football that colours the thinking of some rugby fans, the mere suggestion there could be lessons worth heeding from across the great divide prompting flippant guffaws.
But lessons there are for the Blues right now on Brian Clark Way, right under their noses in the same city. Different sport or not.
When Warnock took charge of Cardiff, it brought an end to a post-Malky Mackay era during which the club seemed to be heading precisely nowhere.
The hapless Russell Slade and the out-of-his-depth Paul Trollope had failed to kick-start a club reeling after its all too brief stay in the Premier League. The no-nonsense Warnock was precisely the character needed – as borne out by results.
Drive past Cardiff City Stadium these days and what’s the main image adorning the outer walls of the arena? One of Warnock, fist-clenched and oozing the fighting qualities needed to get out of the relentless, physically and mentally demanding Championship.
Yes, it is only an image. But it sends a message to supporters and visiting teams alike that the Bluebirds are no soft touch, that everything opposition teams get in their back yard will have to be earned and then some.
Warnock’s influence extends way beyond mere rabble-rousing.
He has been allowed to choose his own lieutenants in Kevin Blackwell and Ronnie Jepson, themselves gnarled and experienced old school football men.
He’s used his contacts and knowledge to bring in players like Sol Bamba and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, who cost little and were unheralded but who are now tearing up the division.
He’s used his man-management skills to craft a contented and seriously motivated squad who want to play for him as much as the badge.
And, as ever, Warnock hasn’t suffered fools. He never does. Everyone knows who’s the boss. The entire ethos of the club starts with him and trickles downwards.
A football club it may be, but these are exactly the sort of things the Blues require if they have any pretensions to meaningful upward mobility under a new man when Danny Wilson leaves at the end of the season.
The rugby fraternity can be notoriously inward looking, but to think there aren’t things the Blues can learn from the Warnock story is plain foolish. Wilson has achieved modest results in a well-documented tough environment, but by the time he goes the rugby operation will unquestionably need a proper shake-up. And it’s no job for a novice. A novice would be a gamble, and the Blues are all out of chips.
Before going any further, there’s no suggestion that the stereotypical – and almost certainly inaccurate – impression people have of Warnock as a teacup throwing human hairdryer in the dressing room is the cure for all ills at the Arms Park. Modern rugby players only respond to that in very small doses.
But the next person in charge has to make his presence felt on every front.
For a start, whatever barrack room lawyers there are among the Blues squad he should have licence to get rid of them – just as Wayne Pivac has done at the Scarlets.
He needs total freedom over who he appoints as his assistants. The Blues need to realise they can’t recruit someone and then turn around and say ‘oh but you’ll have to work with so-andso...’ If they try that the whole thing’s doomed from the outset so put those not wanted by the new boss on gardening leave if they are contracted, or better still bite the bullet and pay them off. Short-term financial pain for longterm gain.
Complete control over who joins the squad and who leaves it is an absolute non-negotiable must, regardless of the size of the playing budget which, as we have seen, is subject to change. And if money is going to be more scarce at the Blues – and clearly it is – then contacts and nous in the marketplace will be more important than ever.
The new man should also be bullish in his public pronouncements. Not arrogant or disrepectful, but forthright in a way that lets the whole of the Guinness PRO14 know that defeat is as