The first pre-Welsh derby Opposition View of the season comes from Dragons fan @JPGwent before Cardiff Blues head to Rodney Parade on Saturday. He offers his thoughts on Bernard Jackman, the summer recruitment and an improving team.
Last season was obviously one of huge change at the Dragons, do you think Bernard Jackman went about it in the right way? Or did it put him under unnecessary pressure?
The Dragons job is tough for any coach because you’re starting from a low base and you’re playing catch up with the rest especially with our meagre budget. There’s a big rebuilding project going on here. However there’s no doubt that Jackman has put himself huge pressure. In fairness he was honest enough to admit that the training intensity was too high and he told players too early in the season they were leaving the club.
Richard Cockerill also had a big clear out at Edinburgh but he made the most of what he had at his disposal whereas Bernard was too quick to write players off in my opinion. Yes, we needed a big clear out as there was a lot of dead wood in the squad but you have to wonder whether players such as Phil Price and Angus O’Brien were ever given a fair crack of the whip?
Last season was awful and we were frequently told ‘it’s all about next season’ so Bernard now has to back that up with better results this season. I’ll give Bernard credit where it’s due because I know he’s working hard to change the culture and make the Dragons more professional and well equipped by bolstering the backroom setup and he has brought through young talented Gwent players such as Rosser, Robson, Basham, Babos etc… which will stand us in good stead for the future. Whether Bernard is the right man to lead the Dragons rebuilding project is still up for debate.
Dragons were very active with signings this summer. Aside from the obvious Moriarty and Hibbards of the world, which new player has caught your eye as a shrewd acquisition?
I was pleased when we signed Jordan Williams from Bristol because although he has defensive frailties, there is no doubt he is a very talented player who has that ‘X-Factor’. A player who can create something from nothing. His wonder try against Leinster in Dublin is the perfect example of that. He’s been very good for us so far.
I also think Brandon Nansen will prove to be a shrewd signing. Granted, he hasn’t set the world alight yet and it may take time for him to settle in Wales, but he does carry the ball well and puts in some big hits. There’s definitely more to come from him I feel.
Aside from a heavy defeat at Leinster, the Dragons have been pretty competitive in each game so far this season. Is it time to start getting excited?
I can’t say I’m excited just yet as it’s still early days and I don’t think we are quite gelling at the moment which is understandble given it’s a brand new squad. What I will say is that despite the fact that we still have a lot to work on, we are showing signs of improvement. Even in the Leinster thumping, we showed signs of encouragement during that game.
Many people thought we would get hammered up in Glasgow because we made a few changes but that wasn’t the case and we put in a respectable performance. Despite our budget, I believe this is the strongest Dragons squad in years and if it starts to click and we avoid injuries to key players, I think we’ll be a much harder team to beat and earn respect again.
Who would you say is the best player in the Dragons squad at the moment?
There’s a strong case for Cory Hill due to his leadership skills and work rate but for me it’s Hallam Amos. When Amos plays well, the Dragons play well. Jackman described Hallam as a “very, very special player” and I agree with that.
It’s a huge loss when he’s not playing for us and we’ll really miss him this weekend. Going forward, I hope we can hold onto Hallam because I’m sure there are many clubs who would want his signature.
What have you made of Cardiff Blues so far this season?
It’s been a patchy start under new head coach John Mulvihill hasn’t it? Look, if we’re being honest here, Cardiff Blues should be coming to Newport unbeaten. They blew a glorious opportunity to beat a 2nd string Leinster at CAP. Benetton away was always going to be tricky in fairness but the Zebre defeat was really poor. Yes, Zebre are much improved but you can’t blow a 21 point lead against one of the weakest teams in the league.
Yet for some reason I fancied Cardiff to topple a fully loaded Munster team and they certainly did that. It was a fantastic performance. They made hard work of seeing off the Cheetahs but they showed a lot of character coming from 11 points down in the final quarter of the match. I don’t think the Dragons should fear the Cardiff Blues but there’s no doubt they have some very dangerous players who’ll cause some damage if given an opportunity.
And finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday?
It’s a massive game. The players should be bang up for this given the fact that we haven’t won a Welsh derby in the league since Boxing Day 2014 against the Cardiff Blues! The back row battle will be key. Moriarty needs to keep a cool head and not do anything daft. Ollie Griffiths up against Ellis Jenkins is going to be some battle and our half-backs need a big game, in particular Josh Lewis who must produce an error free performance on Saturday.
I think the Dragons will give it a real good crack but Cardiff Blues are coming down here with some momentum now having beaten Munster and the Cheetahs and with the likes of Anscombe, Lee-Lo, Halaholo, Jenkins and Nick Williams, I just feel they have enough quality to come away from Rodney Parade with a win. Cardiff Blues by 8.
Thanks again to Jamie for some terrific insight into the Dragons ahead of what could well be one of the best games between our two sides in recent years.