Navidi: ‘All falling into place for Blues’

Date published: September 30 2016

Four wins out of four to start the PRO12 season suggests that after a few tough seasons, Cardiff Blues have turned the corner.

Head coach Danny Wilson is into his second campaign and it hardly comes as a shock that his messages are beginning to seep into the thoughts of what on paper is very much a talented squad.

Tied at the top of the table with Ulster, the Blues this week welcome Leinster to Arms Park looking to continue that unbeaten start.

Win that and expectations will only continue to rise, although as Josh Navidi notes, nothing in the PRO12 anymore can be taken as a given. Zebre’s near upset last weekend offered the Blues a timely reminder of that.

“In this league now it is so close between the teams, you cannot just turn up somewhere expecting to win. The teams are getting stronger,” Navidi said.

“The Italian teams don’t travel too well but at home they will back themselves. We lost there last year but we knew going out there they are a different team to when they travel.”

Winning the first four is a marked contrast to the beginning of the 2015/2016 campaign, when the fixture list generated a gauntlet of four consecutive trips to Ireland for the Blues between Rounds 2-5. They lost all four of those games and never recovered. And as dispiriting as that start might have been last season, this time around confidence is unsurprisingly high.

“It is a positive start compared to last season, when we had the four Irish teams away in the first five games,” Navidi added.

“We have gone away twice [to Munster and Zebre] and won both of them ahead of Leinster at home this weekend, which is another big game because they are going well.”

The reasons for this turnaround are not difficult to pick out. Firstly, a full pre-season with a new head coach instead of a disjointed Rugby World Cup pre-season will always help to get the message across.

Then there is a comprehensive trimming of the first-team squad, with 16 departures and seven arrivals over the off-season. Quality over quantity too, with Nick Williams, Willis Halaholo, Matthew Morgan and Rhys Gill amongst those incoming players.

Wilson’s move to tighten up his squad combined with having more time to bed in his ethos appears to be working out even at an early stage.

“He came in last year and towards the end we started picking some form and some good wins. We have had a good pre-season and everything seems to be falling into place,” Navidi explained.

“The way we are playing is a lot different to the past and everyone has bought into it. The big thing that Danny has brought in is making sure you know your role.

“He is spot on to be honest. The way he goes about things, he is on the money every time. He is a very sharp bloke and he understands the game so well and has made a massive difference for us.

“Over the past few years we have had big squads, and now there are only about 40 boys. The way we have recruited this season, it hasn’t been about just picking anyone.

“Patch [Rhys Patchell] has left but Steve Shingler has come in, which means we have added another quality player, instead of just anyone.”

Navidi faces competition for places in a Blues back row that includes Wales captain Sam Warburton, Williams, rising star Ellis Jenkins and Test player Josh Turnbull, but early in the season the 25-year-old’s work-rate has shone through.

Man of the Match recently against Munster, Navidi signed a three-year contract extension at the end of last year, to stay with the region he watched from the stands growing up until 2019.

His sole cap for his country came over three years ago now, against Japan as a replacement. Maintain his start to the season, and the Blues’ winning run, and new acting Wales head coach Rob Howley might be persuaded to think again.

“It is an amazing city. Playing for the club I grew up watching, with Maama Molitika and Martyn Williams in the back row and coming into the system when they were leaving… it’s a massive club. Every time you go out on the field you want to give your all to it.

“It would be nice to be selected again, but if the Blues go well then hopefully I can add another jersey or another cap. There is always room for improvement.”

by Ben Coles