The final Opposition View of the season sees Newport Gwent Dragons fan Brad Hayward give his view on our rivals to the East ahead of Saturday’s encounter at Caerphilly.
How has your season gone so far overall?
I think if we’re honest it’s been a tough season for all of us. Early optimism with a more expansive game plan, a squad of very good young talent, and some decent results at home has been diluted somewhat with a recent poor run of results, and the obvious anxiety and lack of clarity over the very future of the Region.
With a talented, but undoubtedly thin squad, the long term losses of many of our x-factor players such as Hallam Amos, Ed Jackson, Adam Hughes, Elliot Dee and Ashton Hewitt has hit us very hard.
What has been the high point?
Some of the early season performances, especially at Rodney Parade, were very entertaining, and demonstrated the undoubted potential of a number of the Dragons Squad. Memorable were the high scoring victories against the Blues (38-28) in pre-season, and Brive (37-16) in Euro Challenge Cup. During the Autumn, winning 5 on the spin at Rodney Parade did start to build some momentum, and create a level of confidence in our ability to compete with teams of significantly greater resources when at RP.
And the low point?
Under normal circumstances the heavy defeat at home to Munster (17-45) would be high on this list, but personally I must say the loss to Edinburgh just last week. As I’m sure the saying goes, “it’s the hope that kills you”, and losing a game from 20-3 up with 8 minutes remaining was a real kick in the teeth (I’ll stick with teeth). With expectation raised of an end to our much publicised away travels ‘hoodoo’ firmly in our grasp, to somehow manage to lose that fixture, and concede 3 tries in those final 8 minutes was really deflating for all involved.
However, the on field matters were put into sharp context recently with regards to an accident that befell one of our most popular members of the Dragons playing staff, No8 Ed Jackson. I would like to take the opportunity to wish Ed, and all of his family and friends, our thoughts and support over the coming months, which I’m sure all members of the Rugby community would join me in. Ed suffered a shoulder injury in January, and during his time out of the game he was unfortunately involved in an accident in which he suffered a fracture dislocation in his neck, and underwent emergency surgery. Currently still in hospital recovering, and with limited movement still, Ed has shown incredible courage, and faced this battle head on. He has decided to document his recovery through social media, and his positive attitude, and amazing bravery is something that is truly inspirational to us all.
Who have been your standout player(s)?
Early season Hallam and Ashton Hewitt, although we very rarely managed to get them in the same starting XV, were really demonstrating their star quality, and are both players that can be game changers for us. In addition Sam Beard has proven to be a super signing in the centre too.
Up front, and especially in the Back Row, is where a number of our players have stood up this season, from Ed Jackson’s early season form, Lewis Evans’ commitment and leadership, and Nic Cudd’s constantly understated bravery and brilliance.
However the stand out player for me has been Ollie Griffiths. With Ollie’s ability to have a long run of games he has shown both Dragons, and wider Rugby Supporters, just why he is rated so highly at the Dragons, and is expected to have such a big future in the game. Newport RFC’s youngest ever captain, Ollie is an exceptional Athlete, and potentially a future Dragons Captain and Welsh International. The form Ollie has shown will hopefully lead to a much deserved call up to this Summer’s Tour with Wales, and afford him the ability to experience the demands and intensity of the International game.
What did you make of our game earlier this year?
The pre-season fixture at RP brings back more favourable memories, but the Boxing Day game at CAP was an enjoyable experience, if the result not so. Much like RP, I personally have a fondness for the more atmospheric and historic Rugby venues, and have always really enjoyed visiting CAP.
From a Dragons perspective it was a game where Ashton Hewitt undoubtedly secured his selection to the 6N Wales squad, but unfortunately one of the last games we saw him in Dragons colours this season. From a Blues perspective I remember watching Nick Williams’ carrying, and wishing our playing budget could stretch to such a destructive force on the front foot.
A stubborn and determined second half display from the Dragons was not enough to overturn the deficit, and the Blues were well worthy of their 27-16 victory, which unfortunately seemed to be dominated by post match discussions on the officiating, both in terms of the individual decisions and the manner the game was managed throughout.
What are your thoughts on Cardiff Blues this season?
To be honest I think with the talent and budget available the Blues should be performing more consistently. At times this season they have looked an incredibly potent attacking force, and with quick ball the backline available to them have looked very threatening. This was highlighted on Judgement Day, where you dominated the Ospreys from the first whistle, and your backs looked razor sharp. With quick ball Lloyd Williams and Gareth Anscombe looked the international half-backs they are, and the centre combination and Alex Cuthbert were exceptional.
Whether the inconsistencies this season are due to a shortage of depth up front is something I’m not informed enough to comment on with huge amounts of credibility, but when the winter months come, and the ground gets softer, do the Blues currently have a truly dominate front 5? That question/comment aside, two forwards that have really caught the eye this season have been hooker Kristian Dacey and flanker Ellis Jenkins, who will both without doubt tour with Wales this Summer.
Your prediction for Saturday?
Saturday I’m sure will be a great event, and I’m aware of just how much effort everyone at the Dragons, and particularly Caerphilly RFC have made to prepare for this game. I’m personally looking forward to a number of key battles within the game, none more than seeing Ellis Jenkins and Ollie go head to head. Both in my mind are truly international class 7’s, and are incredibly strong in the contact area, a sub-plot that may go some way towards deciding the result.
Although missing a number of key players I’m sure the Dragons lads will be up for this game, it is a local derby after all, and whatever the coming weeks hold, it will be the last ever game for the Dragons in their current guise. My heart feels that we will dominate the breakdown, challenge the Blues defence in the 10-12 channel, and squeeze to a close fought victory. My head may think slightly differently, but as my wife will testify, I’m not one to use my head too frequently..
Thanks to Brad for his excellent insight, and I would certainly like to echo the sentiments towards Ed Jackson. Will be a hard fought game for certain, so make sure you’re in Caerphilly to support the boys, come on Cardiff!!