Back At CAP

Just over three years ago I went along to the oddest – and most depressing – rugby match I’ve ever attended. Odder even than a 0-0 draw I witnessed years ago.

It was Cardiff Blues versus Edinburgh in the last match of the 08-09 season. It had been pencilled in as the final match at the Arms Park. A crowd of 11,000 turned up, the team had just come off a successful season and half a dozen of the squad were about to head to South Africa with the Lions. It should have been a celebration – and they tried hard to make it one with an after match ceremony acknowledging the past.

But the game was played out in a gloomy, down in the dumps atmosphere. This was it. It was the last time top flight rugby would be played at the ground and it seemed completely unreal. The rumours of what was being planned for the Arms Park didn’t help much.

When the South Terrace began booing Gareth Edwards I knew it was time to head out for a stiff drink and a lie down. I walked back down Westgate Street thinking, “God, so that’s it? It ends like that?”

When we went back – briefly – last season I had that day on my mind. The game against Connacht was pretty dire – and a smaller crowd of 8,000 or so packed into the Arms Park – but it was a mile away from the atmosphere at that Edinburgh game. We had 8,000 people pleased to be home, and a group of players feeding off their energy. As the crowd picked up, the tackles went in harder, opposition line out balls were stolen. No one could be any doubt that this was the team’s home.

When the whole Back to CAP thing built up a head of steam last season, some people – quite possibly sick of the 240,000,000 Arms Park threads on Gwlad – pointed out that going back to the Arms Park wouldn’t in itself be the answer to our problems. That’s perfectly true. But for a hundred reasons, being back at the Arms Park is essential if we’re going to start again and rebuild.
But the nay sayers were quite right about one thing: we’re not going to get anywhere with just misty eyed romanticism to keep things trundling on.

(Now, for some misty eyed romanticism…)

We’ve all got stories about players and matches we’ve seen at the Arms Park over the years. And until recently when we talked fondly about the Arms Park – that’s what we’d be talking about – the past.
The best thing about going back is that now we won’t have to talk about what Mike, Terry, Gareth, Gerald, Barry, Bleddyn or Dr Jack did. Its about what Harry Robinson, Cory Allen, Rhys Patchell and Ellis Jenkins can do. Its not about 1953, 1984 or 1998. Its about this season and fifteen, twenty, thirty seasons down the line. Its not about going back to what was, its about passing the torch. More than that, its about when this new generation are 35 years old, retiring and passing that torch on to their own successors. We’re not looking back, we’re kick starting something new. It’d be nice if it can stand proudly alongside what went before. It’d be even better if it blows apart what went before and surpasses it in every possible way. Its not a strip of turf with history, its a strip of turf that has yet to see its greatest days.

You might have a cherished memory of going to the Arms Park for the first time and seeing some great players who caught your imagination. Ringo, Rayer, TGR, Scotty, Holmesy, GOE, Simon Hill….
Friday night there’ll be 8 and 10 year old kids in that position. They might not know it yet but they’re about to get acquainted with heroes of their own. Its time for the old to move aside. I can’t wait.

It might not have occurred to anyone at CAP, but wouldn’t it be nice if Gareth Edwards makes a speech at half time? He might get a different response this time.

Michael Paterson Q&A

Gwladrugby’s very own Dai H caught up with Cardiff Blues’ Michael Paterson for a Q&A ahead of the new Pro12 season.

Important things first: good holiday back in NZ? What did you get up to apart from recuperate (I’ve no idea what rugby players do in their off time)?

Back in NZ I was recovering after the first of two shoulder operations that I needed done over the summer. I spent the majority of my time in the earthquake ruined Christchurch and also on the family farm on the Canterbury Plains. Normal activities such as jet boating and other physical activities were a no go as I was wearing a sling the entire time I was there.

 How are the shoulders now you’ve had the ops, and when can we expect to see you back in action?

The first shoulder is well on the way to getting back to strength with some good rehab since returning from NZ…….. The left shoulder has only recently passed the 4 week post op date and now is out of the sling and we are just waiting for it to join the party and behave like the right one. With all going to plan I should be back in action toward the end of September

 Seeing as you were double player of the year last season, does this put any pressure on you to perform well this season?

Personally it was a great year picking up the two awards and I always strive to achieve the best I can….. personal performance is something I pride myself on so I will be working doubley hard to get back up to speed as quickly as possible when my shoulders allow me to and back on the field.

Follow up to the above question: with a lot of experienced players moving on, do you see yourself taking on a more senior role with the team this year?

I guess in someway with a lot of players retiring at the end of last year there is a certain degree of responsibility to take on board but in saying that there are a lot of natural leaders within the group that we currently have and I’m sure with everyone doing their bit it can be a successful year.

 It’s a tough Heineken Cup draw you’ve got this season, especially the away games at Toulon and Montpellier. Do you think if you can get an away win in the first round of matches (like in Paris last year) that you can get enough momentum to get out of the group?

It is a tough Heineken Cup pool but we will be doing the best we can to get out of the group. Last year showed that victories away from home are achievable and we need to prepare in the best way possible as a team to achieve this.

You looked pretty happy after the Connacht match at the Arms Park last year (I vaguely remember you holding up a ‘Welcome Home’ sign or something similar), how did you find the experience of playing a couple of matches there?

The Arms Park has a lot of great history and it was awesome to be able to play there last year with such a great bunch of boys. The victories we had there made it so much sweeter with being so close to our supporters and being able to share the experience with them after the game. All the boys are very excited to be returning there and cant wait to get back there for the coming season and to see and listen to all the supporters again.

 How do you like living in Cardiff? Have you seen much of Wales/the UK/Europe since you’ve been over here?

Cardiff is a great place to live and play rugby, the Welsh are very friendly and so passionate about rugby. In the two years of living here I’ve been very fortunate to travel to some amazing places with both rugby and in last years summer holidays. Greece would have to be at the top of the list of places I want to return after spending time in Crete and Mitzela (on the east coast north of Volos)

Now the easy questions: your top 3 rugby stadiums that you’ve played at?

AMI Stadium – Christchurch

Loftus Versfeld – Pretoria

Avia Stadium – Dublin

 Top 3 you’d like to play at?

Millenium Stadium – Cardiff

Stade de France – Paris

Twickenham – London

Players you’ve love playing with and those you hate playing against?

With – Paul Tito

Against – Sebastien Chabal

Can you recommend somewhere to get a good fried breakfast in Cardiff?

The home of Scott Andrews