Until the beginning of the 2003–04 season, Welsh rugby was organised in a league pyramid, at the top of which were nine professional clubs. The system was similar to the English Premiership and French Top 14 club systems. However, by the 2002–03 season it was clear for financial reasons that Wales could not support nine professional teams.
In a process instigated by the then CEO of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), David Moffett, the nine clubs began the Introduction of regional rugby union teams in Wales.
An agreement was reached whereby Cardiff RFC would be allowed to form a "standalone" club, meaning that they would not have to amalgamate with any of the other eight professional clubs. As a result, Cardiff RFC was rebranded as the Cardiff Blues and a launch event took place at the Cardiff Hilton on 6 June 2003.
Cardiff Blues, missing Rhys Williams, Tom Shanklin, Iestyn Harris and Martyn Williams to Wales's World Cup squad for the start of the season, lost their first three matches, including friendlies against Leicester Tigers and Northampton Saints and a Celtic League game against Glasgow. By the end of 2003, they had lost 12 matches and only won three (against Connacht, Leinster and Ospreys), all the wins coming at home. Increasingly, there were calls for head coach Dai Young to step down.
The 43–6 win over Ospreys was notable for the performance of fireman Lee Abdul. The semi-professional had been brought into the squad as cover during the 2003 Rugby World Cup and scored a record four tries from the wing. Unfortunately for Abdul, he suffered a serious injury in the next home game against the Newport Gwent Dragons.
In January the Cardiff Blues recorded Heineken Cup victories over English club Sale and French side Biarritz Olympique. The temporary signing of former Australian international Matt Cockbain seemed to revitalise the side, and his brief stay coincided with a six match unbeaten run which lasted until a dour 0–6 loss to the Llanelli Scarlets in March. Cardiff Blues finished the season as the lowest ranked Welsh club in the Celtic League having only managed one win against another Welsh side. They were however the highest try scorers in the league, scoring 73 tries.
The Cardiff Blues, who played their home games at the 13,500 capacity Cardiff Arms Park, managed an average attendance of 4,518 for their homes games in the Celtic League and Heineken Cup during the season, far below the target set by David Moffett at 8,000. The highest attendance of the season was 7,000 for the Celtic League 0–6 defeat to the Scarlets in March, while the joint lowest were 3,500 each for the games against Leinster and Connacht in October.
Cardiff Blues finished the Celtic League 9th place, and recorded only one win in the Heineken Cup. Calls for Head Coach Dai Young to be removed intensified between November and January when the team went eight games without recording a victory. Following the 15–38 loss to Stade Français the players were booed from the field by their own supporters.
Finishing in a low position in the league meant that in order to qualify for the Heineken Cup, Cardiff Blues had to compete in a play-off game against the third place Italian side Arix Viadana. Cardiff Blues won this game 38–9, thus qualifying for the Heineken Cup through what the media described as the cat flap. This was only the second away win of the season, and the governing body made plans to ensure that performance on the field would dramatically improve the following season.
As Pontypridd was brought under the Cardiff Blues umbrella following the demise of the Celtic Warriors (although all games were still hosted at the Arms Park and there were no changes to region's club kit or badge) attendances for home Celtic League and Heineken Cup games rose to an average of 5,218 for the 2004–05 season. The lowest crowd was 2,799 for Glasgow's League visit in November, still the lowest crowd ever for the Cardiff Blues in a League or European match, while the highest was 10,186 for Gloucester's Heineken Cup visit in December.
In the summer of 2005 funds were finally made available to sign new players allowing Dai Young to start rebuild the side. Former New Zealand No.8 Xavier Rush was among several new signings who gave the squad a much stronger look on paper. Also, a new custom-built training headquarters was established at Hensol in the outskirts of Cardiff. Previously the team had been training on public fields and in public gyms.
There was further reason for optimism when the Heineken Cup draw was announced. Cardiff Blues were matched with Italian minnows Calvisano, notoriously poor travellers USA Perpignan and the Leeds Tykes. Many believed that Cardiff Blues had a golden opportunity of finally making the Heineken Cup quarter finals.
Results did not improve immediately, with the 37–20 win over Saracens in October 2005 the highlight to a disappointing start to the season. However, in the prematch announcement it was confirmed that rugby legend Jonah Lomu had agreed to join Cardiff Blues on a temporary basis as he tried to rebuild his career in time for the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Lomu was recovering from a kidney transplant, but the signing gave notice of the team's renewed ambition. His home debut versus Calvisano was greeted by a capacity crowd and the signing was regarded as a marketing masterstroke. Results improved with wins over the Ospreys and the Newport Gwent Dragons in December.
In January 2006 the Cardiff Blues were knocked out of the Heineken Cup after losing 3–21 at home to Perpignan and then losing 3–48 to the relegation threatened Leeds Tykes. This formed part of a 5 match losing run, coinciding with the loss through injury of outside half Nicky Robinson. The poor run prompted the management to issue "final warnings" to under performing players. As had been the case in the two previous seasons, results improved in the latter months of the season, and in May, the Celtic League attendance record was broken when 15,327 watched Cardiff Blues beat Leinster 40–31 at the Millennium Stadium. The Cardiff Blues finished the league in 4th; the highest placed Welsh team.
The signing of Jonah Lomu helped attendances rise to an average of 8,173 in Celtic League and Heineken Cup home games. The smallest attendance was 4,508 for the Celtic League games against Glasgow in March, while the highest was the Celtic League record crowd of 15,327 against Leinster at the Millennium Stadium.
More signings, including former New Zealand fullback Ben Blair, further enhanced the quality of the Cardiff Blues squad for the 2006–07 season. Several young players from the regional academy also became established players, including Chris Czekaj and Duane Goodfield. The emergence of other highly tipped young players (notably Bradley Davies and Tom James) encouraged the belief that Cardiff Blues could soon start challenging for major honours. London Wasps, Saracens and London Irish were all defeated in the Anglo-Welsh Cup group stages; however the Ospreys defeated the Cardiff Blues 27–10 in the semi final at the Millennium Stadium on 24 March 2007.
In the Heineken Cup, Cardiff Blues recorded their first win in France, beating Bourgoin 13–5. For their next game, the Cardiff Blues again played at the Millennium Stadium. This time hosting Leicester Tigers, they attracted their highest ever Heineken Cup crowd, with 26,309 spectators attending the game, although they lost the game by 17 points to 21 after being down to 14 men for a long period of the game. Cardiff Blues were finally knocked out of the Heineken Cup after successive losses to the champions, Munster, despite respectable performances (particularly at Munster's Thomond Park).
Cardiff Blues fared better in the domestic league, finishing second after having beaten Leinster at home to go top of the league, only for the Ospreys to win at Borders the next day to claim the title.
The average attendances in the League and in Europe rose again for the Cardiff Blues, this time to 9,413. The lowest attendance was 4,309 for a Magners League match against Connacht in November, while the highest was 26,645 at the Millennium Stadium for the visit of Leicester Tigers in the Heineken Cup.
Further additions to the Cardiff Blues squad over the summer include Gareth Thomas, Paul Tito and Jason Spice, who was brought in to replace Mike Philips who signed to the Ospreys for a reported £180,000 a year.
The Cardiff Blues won their first two games of the season, beating the Ospreys at home in the opening match and extending their unbeaten home record to sixteen games, and recording an away win at Newport Gwent Dragons the following week to top the table. The Cardiff Blues extended their unbeaten home record to seventeen games the following week with a home victory against Glasgow, but subsequently lost their next home game against Leinster conceding two interception tries.
The Cardiff Blues responded to the defeat against Leinster with an away victory over Munster, only the second time in the history of the Celtic League that the Cardiff Blues maintained their position at the top of the league. The following week saw a 30–16 home victory against Connacht, with Gareth Thomas making his first appearance in Cardiff Blues colours, coming on off the bench after 50 minutes to replace wing Rhys Williams. The Cardiff Blues once again finished 2nd in the Celtic League.
The Anglo-Welsh Cup started well for the Cardiff Blues with a 32–15 bonus point win at home over Sale. Cardiff scoring four tries in the first 30 minutes with Gareth Thomas getting two of these on his first start for the Cardiff Blues. In the second week of the Anglo-Welsh Cup the Cardiff Blues lost 42–20 against Leicester Tigers, effectively knocking them out of the competition. In the final pool game of the competition the Cardiff Blues ended Bath RFCs twelve-month unbeaten home record, winning 6–14 at the Recreation Ground. This win however was insufficient, with Leicester progressing to the semi-finals as a result of having gained a bonus point in every pool match.
The Cardiff Blues began their Heineken Cup campaign with a bonus point 34–18 home win over Bristol, and followed this with a 13–13 away draw at Harlequins. In December, the Cardiff Blues secured a losing bonus point in their 12–6 loss against Stade Français in Paris, and subsequently won the return fixture 31–21 the following week. A 23–12 home win over Harlequins followed by a 17–0 away win at Bristol secured qualification to the quarter-final stages as the fifth seed. The Cardiff Blues subsequently lost their away quarter-final 41–17 against Toulouse on 6 April.
Cardiff Blues crowds fell slightly in 2007–08 to a still-respectable average of 8,877 in the League and in Europe. Their smallest crowd was in September with 5,425 against Glasgow. The biggest was 12,532 for the Boxing Day derby against the Dragons.
Very low key signings made in the summer; Ceri Sweeney, Aled Brew and Richard Mustoe. After a clear out of mostly squad players that saw seven players leave; Marc Stcherbina, Robert Sidoli, Nick Macleod, James Goode, Duane Goodfield, Tom Riley and Rhys Shellard.
Subsequently, Aled Brew has been loaned to Newport Gwent Dragons.
The Cardiff Blues finished 6th in the Celtic League, winning 8 games but losing 9. This was mainly due to their focus on the Heineken cup and the Anglo-Welsh cup.
Cardiff Blues were the only unbeaten team in the competition, winning their group, and beating Northampton 11–5 in the semi-final. The Cardiff Blues went on to win the final at Twickenham, 50–12 against Gloucester.
The Cardiff Blues began their Heineken Cup campaign with a 20–56 bonus point victory away to Calvisano. This was followed by a bonus point 37–24 win against Gloucester at the Millennium Stadium. A crowd of 27,114 set a new record for a Heineken Cup pool stage game for the Welsh region. The Cardiff Blues then claimed back-to-back victories over Biarritz in December, winning 21–17 at home followed by a 6–10 victory away.
Following the Christmas break, the Cardiff Blues recorded an away 12–16 victory over Gloucester despite being reduced to 14 men after Tom James was sent-off for a head butt on Gloucester hooker Olivier Azam. The final round of pool games saw the Cardiff Blues face Calvisano at home. A bonus point 62–20 win ensured that the Cardiff Blues remained the only unbeaten team in the pool stages of the 2008–09 Heineken Cup with the Cardiff Blues claiming the top seed and a home quarter-final.
The quarter-final against eighth seed and three-times Heineken Cup winners Toulouse was played in the Millennium Stadium with another record attendance of 36,778. The Cardiff Blues claimed a 9–6 victory in a defence dominated game. The semi-final against Leicester Tigers was also hosted at the Millennium Stadium. Despite being 12–26 down with six minutes remaining, the Cardiff Blues mounted a comeback tie the scores at 26–26 after 80 minutes and force extra time. With no further score in the 20 minutes of extra time, the game was forced into an historic penalty kick decider. The Cardiff Blues were defeated 7–6 following missed kicks by Tom James and Martyn Williams.
2008–09 was the most successful year since rebranding in terms of attendances, with an average crowd of 12,639 (the crowd of 44,212 for the 'neutral' Heineken Cup semi-final played at the Millennium Stadium is not included in that figure). The lowest attendance was 6,608 for the rearranged Magners League fixture against the Dragons in May, while the highest was the biggest crowd since rebranding, 36,728 for the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Toulouse at the Millennium Stadium in May. Following this season, the Cardiff Blues decided to move from the Arms Park to the Cardiff City Stadium
With the loss of Nicky Robinson, Jamie Robinson, Jason Spice and Ross Johnson; the Cardiff Blues signed Sam Norton-Knight from the New South Wales Waratahs, Gareth Cooper from Gloucester and Gavin Evans from Scarlets, as well as Casey Laulala from the Canterbury Crusaders who arrived in the November.
In the Celtic League, the Cardiff Blues finished fifth in the table, one point out of the playoffs; but secured a place in the 2010–11 Heineken Cup as the second-placed Welsh team. Their Heineken Cup campaign ended after the pool stage, in which they finished second to Toulouse and were not one of the two top second-place teams. However, this season was the first in which three second-place teams from the Heineken Cup parachuted into the European Challenge Cup, and the Cardiff Blues were one of three teams to qualify. They crushed Newcastle Falcons 55–20 in the quarterfinals and edged London Wasps 18–15, both on the road, to reach the final of the competition. The Cardiff Blues became the first Welsh side to win a European trophy after beating Toulon 28–21 in the final on 23 May at Stade Vélodrome in Marseille.
The Cardiff Blues had another five-figure average attendance in 2009–10, this time 10,708. Their smallest crowd was 7,105 (bigger than any of their attendances in their first season) against Connacht in December. Their highest was 16,341 for the October derby against the Ospreys.
In money terms, the Cardiff Blues had a turnover of £8.7m and a total employment bill of £5.6m, with other costs including rental of the new stadium leading them to make a loss of £651,156.
With the unsuccessful Sam Norton-Knight signing for the Sanyo Wild Knights after not making the grade at outside half, the Blues signed Dan Parks of Glasgow Warriors and a Scottish International. He is the current record points scorer in the Celtic League.
The Cardiff Blues also re-signed Xavier Rush. After declaring his move to Ulster earlier in the season, Rush because of a change in personal matters wanted to stay at the Blues. Although he had signed a contract with Ulster, he managed to negotiate a release from this to continue his career with the Blues.
Another Kiwi was signed by Cardiff in the summer, Michael Paterson from the Super 14 side the Hurricanes, where he played either in the second row or on the blindside. Press reports in New Zealand at the time of the signing indicated that he was on the fringes of the All-Black squad.
Cardiff Blues also signed three English based Welshmen – two from Doncaster Knights, Bryn Griffiths (second row) and Tom Davies (prop) and one from London Welsh, Tom Brown (No.8).
Cardiff Blues released Andy Powell after he "lost his way" after the golf buggy incident whilst on international duty with Wales. Cardiff Blues have also released a number of squad players in the summer including Robin Sowden-Taylor (Dragons), Scott Morgan (Dragons) and Dai Flanagan (Ospreys).
Cardiff Blues were runners up in their Heineken Cup pool but with not enough points to progress in either the Heineken or the Amlin Cups. In the Pro 12 they slipped to 6th place, missing out on a play off spot.
Attendances fell for the second season in a row at the Cardiff City Stadium, this time to an average of 9,810. The lowest crowd was 3,760 in November against Glasgow, and the highest was reported as 22,160 (a record for the Cardiff Blues in the Magners League) for the New Year's Eve fixture against the Ospreys.
Lower attendances and a failure to progress in either the Heineken Cup or Magners League meant turnover fell to £7.4m, while added player and coaching costs led to the total employment bill rising £6.7m.
Minimal changes were made to the squad, with no signings being made. However, Gavin Henson joined midseason on a short term contract. Off the field, David Young left for London Wasps, with a caretaker coaching team managing the team for the duration of the season. Mid season, long serving Chief Executive Robert Norster also left, to be replaced by Richard Holland.
Despite some success in the Heineken Cup, beating Racing Metro and achieving a quarter final place, this was a season in which Cardiff Blues managed only 10 league wins. The season was marked by increased awareness of the impact financial pressures were having on the team since the move to Cardiff City Stadium. Attendances declined further and supporters expressed their dissatisfaction. Two fixtures were moved back to Cardiff Arms Park with some success.
Attendances nosedived this season to an average of 7,510, the lowest since 2004–05. The highest was a mere 10,660 for the visit of the Dragons in December, the smallest crowd was 3,580 for the final home games of the season, where the Cardiff Blues said goodbye to a number of players including Martyn Williams, who had played for the Blues since their inception. The Cardiff Blues then decided to move back to their traditional home at the Arms Park.
The region lost £3.83m in the season (including a £1m agreement with Cardiff City F.C to end their rental agreement at the Cardiff City Stadium).
A host of players including Welsh internationals Gethin Jenkins, T Rhys Thomas, John Yapp, Richie Rees as well as former All Blacks Casey Laulala and Ben Blair joined other clubs. Martyn Williams, Xavier Rush, Paul Tito, Maa'ma Molitika and Deiniol Jones all retired. Jason Tovey arrived to replace Dan Parks. Lou Reed and Robin Copeland were added to the pack. Overseas front rowers Benoit Bourrust, Campese Maa'fu and Andy Kyriacou were also added.
Under new Director of Rugby Phil Davies, Cardiff Blues managed only eight wins in the Pro12 and one in the Heineken Cup. They scored a mere 28 tries in the Pro12, the lowest in the league. The season was also marked by concern over the Arms Park playing surface.
More experienced players left including Jamie Roberts, Michael Paterson, Tom James and Ceri Sweeney. Jason Tovey returned to Newport Gwent Dragons after one season. Former player Gethin Jenkins returned from Toulon and British Lions hooker Matthew Rees also joined.
Over the summer, money was invested in a new artificial playing surface at the Arms Park. After a home loss to Italian club Zebre and a heavy defeat in the Heineken Cup to Exeter, Phil Davies's came under severe scrutiny. However a victory over Heineken Cup champions Toulon followed by back to back wins over Glasgow eased pressure on the Director of Rugby. A series of league defeats once more increased pressure on Davies who finally resigned. The remaining six matches of the season saw caretaker coaches Paul John and Dale McIntosh take the team on a four match unbeaten run which belatedly improved the team's league position.
Jarrad Hoeata and Gareth Anscombe signed from New Zealand, Italian international Manoa Vosawai and Welsh internationals Tavis Knoyle, Josh Turnbull, Craig Mitchell and Adam Jones have been confirmed. Other confirmed arrivals are Bristol wing George Watkins and Wales Sevens skipper Adam Thomas.
Confirmed departures include Leigh Halfpenny, Harry Robinson, Chris Czekaj, Bradley Davies, Robin Copeland and Andries Pretorius.
On their inception, the Cardiff Blues kit corresponded with the traditional Cardiff RFC colours of Cambridge Blue and black. The kit for the subsequent season was a variation of these colours with white being used as an alternative strip in the case of a colour clash with the opposition.
In 2006, Cardiff Blues changed their playing strip in a decision widely interpreted as a move away from the old Cardiff RFC identity, as for the first time black was not included alongside the blue.
In their first ever season in 2003–04, Fila supplied their kits. Since the 2004–05 season, Canterbury have supplied their kits.
The kit is supplied by Canterbury. On the front of the shirt, Airbus Group appear on the centre while Spire Cardiff Hospital appear on the far top left while Live Lounge appear on the far top right. Office Image appear at the top of their left sleeve while Pipe Center below it stating A Wolseley Company appear on the left sleeve while HSS Hire appear on the right sleeve. On the back of the shirt, DS Smith appear on the top while on the bottom are Capital Law and Wessex Garages Nissan.
At the event launching the Cardiff Blues brand in June 2003, the Chief Executive, Robert Norster said, "A huge amount of effort has been made to ensure that the past 127 years of club traditions are not lost. We are delighted by the way these aspects have been respected and retained within the new modern brand." This close association with Cardiff RFC has led to feelings of resentment from members and supporters of other rugby clubs, notably Pontypridd.
There were repeated calls for Cardiff Blues to drop the "Cardiff" part of their name in order to sever links with the old Cardiff RFC identity and to move away from the traditional light blue kit worn by CRFC. Proponents of this idea point to the Super Rugby tournament where teams such as the Bulls and Crusaders play with no geographic locator in their name. These calls intensified when the Celtic Warriors regional team was dissolved in 2004, bringing old rivals Pontypridd within the catchment area of the Cardiff Blues region. However, there was significant opposition to any such move within the ranks of the club, given that the Cardiff club had won standalone status at a cost of £1,000,000 when the rebranding took place in 2003 (No other club or company have been involved with Cardiff RFC Ltd).
Cardiff Blues are responsible for assisting the development of rugby in an area covering the City of Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan, the eastern Glamorgan valleys and Breconshire.
Initially, the Cardiff Blues' region covered only the City of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan. However, this was expanded upon the demise of the Celtic Warriors region after one season. Cardiff RFC Ltd employ development officers who work with schools and clubs across the region and run a rugby academy for elite players aged 16 and above.
From their inception in 2003 the Cardiff Blues played home games at the Cardiff Arms Park, with some high-profile fixtures played at the neighbouring Millennium Stadium, such as the 2008–09 Heineken Cup semi-final versus Leicester Tigers.
From the beginning of the 2009–10 season Cardiff Blues moved to the new Cardiff City Stadium at Leckwith, with the first home game a friendly against Leicester which they lost 5–14, the attendance was 16,000. For use of Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff Blues were paying £350,000 a year in rent to Cardiff City and a similar figure in service charges, as well as covering other match day costs. These costs were later described as unsustainable.
Financial pressures and supporter dissatisfaction led to several home games being moved to the Arms Park in the 2011–12 season. The games against Connacht on 10 February 2012 and Ulster on 17 February 2012 achieved capacity crowds and proved popular with supporters.
On 8 May 2012 it was announced that the 20-year lease between Cardiff City F.C. and the Blues had been broken by mutual consent. The Blues returned to playing home matches at the Arms Park from the 2012–13 season.
The Cardiff Blues had been coached by Dai Young since 2003, until the summer of 2011 when he moved to London Wasps. Over this extended period his various assistants included Richard Webster, Geraint John, Rob Howley, Dan Baugh and Bill Millard.
Upon Young's move to Wasps, Young's former assistants, Wales Sevens assistant coach Gareth Baber and former Blues Academy Director Justin Burnell were made joint caretaker coaches for the 2011–12 season.
Former Scarlets and Worcester Warriors Coach Phil Davies was made Director of Rugby for the following season. Xavier Rush joined as Defence coach in July 2012 after retiring from playing due to injury. Gareth Baber was retained as backs coach whilst Burnell made his exit.
Rush left the Arms Park after the 2012–13 season and former London Broncos head coach Rob Powell took over as defence coach. After a heavy defeat to Exeter in the Heineken Cup, Powell was replaced by former Pontypridd RFC and Blues academy coach Dale McIntosh.
Baber also left his role midway through the 2013–14 season and was replaced by former Wales Sevens coach Paul John.
On 3 March following a poor run of results, Phil Davies resigned six matches before the end of the season. His assistants McIntosh and John were named caretaker coaches for the remainder of the 2013–14 season.
On 18 May 2014, former All Black Hooker, Mark Hammett was named as the new Director of Rugby, taking over from Phil Davies. Caretaker coaches McIntosh and John, will remain part of the coaching team.
On 11 June, former Wales U20's head coach Danny Wilson was appointed new head coach.* Denotes a player who is Welsh qualified.
‡ Denotes a player who is on a WRU 'National Dual Contract'.
2016-17 Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.
Note: Flags indicate national union as has been defined under WR eligibility rules. Players may hold more than one non-WR nationality.
The following players have been selected to play for the British and Irish Lions touring squads while playing for the Cardiff Blues.
Players who have won over 20 international caps and have represented Cardiff Blues in the past:
In 2004 Cardiff Blues received the ERC Elite Award for having played 50 games in the Heineken Cup. This record began in 1995 when Cardiff RFC recorded an away draw at Bordeaux, and continued following the reorganisation of Welsh rugby in 2003, due to the club standing alone and rebranding as Cardiff Blues. ERC statistics show that the team has played 92 games in Europe as first Cardiff RFC then as Cardiff Blues (from the start of 2010–11 season) while the Cardiff Blues' muddled marketing only includes the period since 2003 – 49 games.
Blues players who have been awarded 50 tournament caps are:Martyn Williams
Anglo-Welsh Cup – 2008–09
European Challenge Cup – 2009–10 (first Welsh team to win a European Trophy)