Opposition View: Dragons

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This week’s Opposition View sees Dragons fan Jamie Phillips (@JPGwent) return to give his views on an uncertain time at the coach-less side, where they need to strengthen on the field, and how Friday night’s game might go.

Bernard Jackman has now departed as Dragons head coach, will his time at Rodney Parade be remembered fondly or as a wasted 18 months?

If you looked at his tenure purely from a results perspective then you would say it’s been a wasted 18 months but that’s not quite the case. Bernard’s best work was actually off the field.

He came into the Dragons with an aim to make the environment more professional and he did that by bolstering the back room setup bringing in more analysts, coaches and nutritionists. He played a key role in recruitment and retention and brought through a crop of young talent such as Babos, Basham Robson, Rosser etc…

Bernard’s engagement with the region’s clubs, the wider community and supporters was second to none. However on the field was a very different story. Results and performances were diabolical. Bernard put himself under pressure by frequently reassuring fans that this season would be better than the last.

Sadly there was little to no improvement on the field despite having a stronger squad and more resources at his disposal than any of his predecessors had. With rumours growing that he had lost the dressing room, it was inevitable that Jackman would be given the chop.

At the time of writing there is no news on any new coach, would you like to see a new permanent coach come in ASAP, or write off this season with a temporary coach and wait for a thorough search possibly until after the World Cup?

It has been announced that the Dragons have shelved plans for an interim boss. Forwards coach Ceri Jones is leading us into the festive derbies with the aim of having a new head coach in place for early January.

Whoever comes in, the Dragons/WRU have got to get this appointment right. They can’t take a punt on another unproven coach. We need an experienced coach who has some level of success on his CV.

Chairman David Buttress reckons we have been “inundated with interest, including some really big names.” which is encouraging to hear. We saw the struggles Cardiff Blues and the Scarlets had in recruiting a top coach so I await with interest to see who we appoint.

Bernard Jackman Dragons
Bernard Jackman and the Dragons parted company last week

Transfer season approaches now, what positions do Dragons need to be looking at in terms of strengthening the squad?

The most obvious position is fly-half. Arwel Robson is young but rather injury prone. Josh Lewis has struggled since arriving from Bath and apparently Jacob Botica isn’t ready for Pro Rugby. Henson is past his best but in fairness Jason Tovey has done well for us when he’s been available but is not a long term solution. We desperately need an experienced general at 10.

We also need to look at bringing in some front five players as I think we still lack some grunt and power up front but of course, it’s difficult to bring in those quality players due to our meagre budget.

Who has been the standout player in Dragons colours this season?

Ollie Griffiths has been superb for us and was very unlucky to miss out on Wales’ Autumn squad. Sadly he’s not available for the festive derbies due to a knee injury which is expected to keep him out for six weeks. It’s a massive blow to lose him at this stage of the season.

Dragons have an away losing record in the league that stretches back almost four years, is that a major hurdle that needs to be overcome in your development?

Absolutely and it’s highly embarrassing that the away hoodoo has now stretched to four years. In fact, it’s an absolute disgrace. Dragons have never really been good on the road but it’s becoming a joke now. They need to get that monkey off their back and looking at the rest of the league fixtures this season, the best opportunities for an away win seem to be at Benetton and the Southern Kings. Easier said than done of course!

Elliot Dee Newport
Dragons will be hoping to get back to winning ways away from home

Finally, what is your prediction for Friday?

Despite Cardiff Blues’ form being patchy so far this season, they are the overwhelming favourites for this fixture due to home advantage and the disarray that the Dragons are in.

Having said that, I watched Clermont v Dragons on the weekend and I was pleased that we gave a good account of ourselves against the TOP14 leaders. We didn’t let our heads drop and we battled for the full 80 minutes. Given the huge gulf in depth, budget and quality it was a good effort and we can take the positives from last week into this week.

The Dragons will give it a good shot because it’s a derby and there’s pride at stake but as is often the case these days, Cardiff will probably have too much for them and the loss of Ollie Griffiths is a big blow. Prediction: Cardiff Blues by 10.

Thanks again to Jamie for his excellent insight. Obviously there is rivalry but it’s difficult not to admire the loyalty of Dragons supporters like him. Here’s hoping they improve soon, starting next Monday!

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