As the Blues yet an­other a Warnock?

South Wales Echo - - SPORTS -

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

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