Sale Sharks are the professional offshoot of Sale FC (Founded 1861) and briefly Manchester Sale, and started playing under their present title in 1999. Four years later, the Blues emanated from their umbrella club, Cardiff RFC.
Under regional re-organisation, the Blues are responsible for developing rugby union in the City of Cardiff, Vale of Glamorgan, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Merthyr Tydfil and South Powys. Cardiff Blues are affiliated to a number of semi-professional and amateur clubs throughout the area, including Welsh Premier Division sides Cardiff RFC and Pontypridd RFC.
How the Blues were formed
Until 2003, Welsh rugby was organised in a typical 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. By the 2002-03 season it was clear that, for financial reasons, Wales could not support nine professional teams. In a process instigated by the then CEO of the Welsh Rugby Union 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 created the Cardiff Blues and a launch event took place at the Cardiff Hilton on June 6th 2003.
Through the seasons
Success wasn't immediate after the re-organisation, with the Blues ranked the lowest of the Welsh franchises in 2003-4 and ninth in the Celtic League the following year. Amidst supporter unrest, funds were made available to Head Coach Dai Young, and 2005-6 was better.
Former New Zealand No.8 Xavier Rush was among several new signings who gave the squad a much stronger look on paper. Results did not improve immediately, but hopes were boosted when 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.
As had been the case in the two previous campaigns, 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 Blues finished fourth in the league - the highest placed Welsh team.
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 can soon start challenging for major honours.
Cardiff Blues were finally knocked out of the Heineken Cup after successive losses to the champions, Munster, despite respectable performances, particularly at Thomond Park.They 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.
Further additions to the Cardiff Blues squad over the summer included Gareth Thomas, Paul Tito and Jason Spice, who was brought in to replace scrum half Mike Phillips.
Cardiff Blues beat the Ospreys at home in the opening match of 2007-8 and extended their unbeaten home record to seventeen games but subsequently lost their next home game against Leinster, conceding two interception tries.
The Blues responded to that defeat 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 winger Rhys Williams. The Cardiff Blues once again finished second in the Celtic League.
Cardiff Blues reached the quarter final of the Heineken Cup, losing 41-17 against Toulouse.
The Blues finished sixth in the 2008-9 Celtic League, winning 8 games but losing 9 - mainly due to their focus on the Heineken Cup and the EDF Energy Cup.
Cardiff Blues were the only unbeaten team in the Anglo-Welsh competition, winning their group, and beating Northampton 11-5 in the semi-final. The Blues went on to win the final at Twickenham, 50-12 against Gloucester.
The Blues went one better in the Heineken Cup. The quarter-final against three-times Heineken Cup winners Toulouse was played in the Millennium Stadium with another record attendance of 36,778. Cardiff Blues claimed a 9-6 victory in a defensive game. The semi-final against Leicester Tigers was also hosted at the Millennium Stadium. Despite being 12-26 down with six minutes remaining, Cardiff Blues mounted a comeback to tie the scores at 26-26 after 80 minutes. With no further score in the 20 minutes of extra time, the game was forced into a historic penalty kick decider. The Cardiff Blues were defeated 7-6, following missed kicks by Tom James and Martyn Williams.
In the 2009-10 Celtic League, the Cardiff Blues finished fifth in the table, one point off 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 above Sale Sharks. However, this season was the first in which three second-placed 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 in Marseille.
2010-11 and 2011-12 saw the Blues sixth and seventh in the Magners / RaboDirect PRO12 League. Last term, the Blues had an identical league record to Sale Sharks - 10 wins out of 22. In Europe, they qualified for the quarter final but fell 3-34 to eventual winners Leinster in Dublin.
The Blues' home ground is once more the Cardiff Arms Park, tucked in next to the Millennium Stadium beside the River Taff. For three years from 2009-10 they played almost all of their home games at the Cardiff City Stadium, but declining demand and supporter dissatisfaction led to them playing a number of home games at the Arms Park in the 2011-12 season, which proved a great success.
Cardiff Blues first returned to the Arms Park on 10th February 2012 for the Pro12 match against Connacht. A crowd of 8,000 attended, despite short notice and for one of the least glamorous fixtures. A week later they again sold out for a home game against Ulster.
Cardiff Blues had been coached by Dai Young since they were founded, until the summer of 2011 when he moved to London Wasps. The Blues were coached by Young's former assistants, Wales Sevens assistant coach Gareth Baber and former Blues Academy Director Justin Burnell between 2011-2012. The Blues have now appointed former Scarlets, Leeds and Worcester Warriors Coach Phil Davies. Xavier Rush joined as Defence coach in July 2012 after being forced to retire.
New players during Summer 2012
Ben Blair to Agen, Rhys Downes to Newport, Gethin Jenkins toToulon, Casey Laulala to Munster, Maama Molitika to San Dona, T.Rhys Thomas to London Wasps, Ryan Tyrrell to Melbourne Rebels, Dan Parks to Connacht, Richie Rees & John Yapp to Edinburgh.
Xavier Rush, Paul Tito & Martyn Williams
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