Ahead of the Boxing Day game between Cardiff Blues and Dragons, @JNPhillips4 has offered his view on what has been a positive season at Rodney Parade so far.
It seems like Dean Ryan has got the Dragons turning a corner at last this season. Can you put a finger on what it is that has been done to improve things?
I think the difference has been good coaching and man-management. Dean Ryan is a shrewd, respected and experienced coach. Unlike his predecessors, he hasn’t come here and made any false promises or grand statements. Ryan been honest about the issues we have regarding the budget, depth and resources but he’s just getting on with the job in hand.
Bernard Jackman’s ‘Jam Tomorrow’ approach was always likely to fail but Dean Ryan is a very different character. He’s brought in Simon Cross and Oliver Azam who have proven to be very good additions to the coaching staff as our defence and scrum has significantly improved.
We’ve also got former Cardiff favourite Dan Baugh coming to join us from Wasps next season which I think is a brilliant pick up. He should shake things up a bit.
The win over Scarlets has pushed the Dragons up into 5th in the Pro14’s Conference A, and you top your Challenge Cup pool, what is the target for the rest of the season?
Qualifying for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals would be fantastic and we’re now in a very good position to do that being top of the pool. We haven’t made the knockout stages since 2016 so that would be a big boost and would demonstrate further progress.
In terms of the PRO14 I can’t really see us overtaking Glasgow, so a 5th place finish is most likely. It would be nice not to be the bottom Welsh Region for a change! With the difficulties the Ospreys are currently having, there’s a very good chance of us finishing above them in Conference A.
It’s still been a long time since Dragons won an away Welsh derby, is that another streak that the side can break this season?
The last time we got an away Welsh derby win was back in 2014 at Cardiff Blues on Boxing Day ironically enough. It’s a shame last season’s Judgement Day victory over the Scarlets in Cardiff wasn’t classed as an away win but there’s no reason why the team we’ve selected for Boxing Day can’t come away with a victory.
We’re away to the Scarlets in March and we’re the away team in Judgement Day this season against the Ospreys so there’s a couple of opportunities there to get an away derby win. We’re capable of getting a victory in at least one of those games.
Who has been the standout player for the Dragons so far this season?
Well it has to be Sam Davies doesn’t it? I’m really pleased about that because I’ve always been a fan of his. When former Ospreys coach Allan Clarke described him as the “composer of the orchestra” he was spot on. Sam was quite rightly man of the match in our last two games against Worcester and against the Scarlets and here’s hoping he can make it a hat trick of MOM performances on Boxing Day.
Richard Hibbard has been fantastic in the absence of Elliot Dee but I have also been impressed with Leon Brown this season. He’s taken a fair bit of stick from fans but his scrummaging has really improved. A lot of the credit for that has to go to Oliver Azam.
Finally, what is your prediction for Boxing Day?
I’m really looking forward to it and unlike previous derby games with the Blues, I’m actually quite optimistic about our chances this time around.
Cardiff Blues are favourites with home advantage, and we know Dragons struggle on the road but we go to the Arms Park with confidence and momentum having had very good wins over Worcester and the Scarlets.
It’s going to be tough to back it up away from Rodney Parade but I’m going for a narrow Dragons win in front of a packed Cardiff Arms Park. It should be a great occasion and hopefully a cracker of a game.
Thanks again to Jamie for offering his thoughts, but hopefully the Opposition View prediction is wrong again!