CHRIS KIRWAN: New recruits must get rid of Dragons' scrummaging baggage
10:03am Thursday 20th February 2014 in Sport
NEWPORT Gwent Dragons are tenacious and spirited yet are undone by their shortcomings in the tight five – a situation that has been repeated almost as many times as The Shawshank Redemption on ITV4.
It is often said that there are two ways to shore up a struggling set piece – through time on the paddock and through the chequebook.
The two tend to come hand in hand.
The Dragons have been shunted backwards at a rate of knots by Bath, Northampton, Newcastle and Leinster so far in 2014 and have moved to combat the problem for next season.
Director of rugby Lyn Jones is eyeing a tighthead and a lock to join gnarled Leicester loosehead Boris Stankovich in heading to Rodney Parade this summer.
The boss hopes that he is buying their mindset as well as their on-field prowess.
"The culture of scrummaging is not great in Wales, or specifically in our region," said Jones. "The quicker we get on with a plan to be a good set piece side the more chance we have got of establishing ourselves at the top of the league."
It is vital that the Dragons build a platform or they risk killing the development of a raft of youngsters – centres Jack Dixon and Tyler Morgan, wing/full-back Hallam Amos, flankers James Benjamin and Scott Matthews among others – stone dead.
This is not a case of bringing in overseas talent at the expense of Welsh hopefuls, it's bringing in seasoned pros to bring them through.
And Stankovich is a perfect fit – a scrum bore who smiles with glee whenever somebody knocks the ball on rather than letting out a sigh.
The 34-year-old has already been working as a scrum consultant for former Tigers teammate Craig Newby at Cambridge.
The Dragons will be looking for him to help pass on tips to their current front rowers, not to mention Wales age-grade internationals Luke Garrett, Alex Jeffries, Keagan Bale and Leon Brown.
"Boris will bring a huge amount of knowledge, confidence and ability to a young and inexperienced front row group," said Jones.
"We have had some sticky times this year and haven't had the answers to get out of situations. We are looking for Boris to be a mentor as well as a player for our region."
If Stankovich and his fellow new recruits can help change the Dragons' mental approach to the set piece then the less spherical members of the squad will thrive.
At the moment they have plenty of baggage at scrum time and against the driving lineout but forwards coach Danny Wilson, who left Rodney Parade to join the Scarlets in 2012, has shown how quickly things can change around.
The west Walians used to be a laughing stock in the tight but now more than hold their own thanks to a mix of canny recruitment, coaching and the new scrum laws.
Jones will be hoping to follow that lead after spending a considerable chunk of his budget to bring full-back Lee Bryne and wing Aled Brew back to Wales, Jones will be hoping to follow that lead. There is little point in splashing the cash on the back three if they are to live off scraps.
Stankovich & Co will be brought in to provide a platform in 2014/15 but it will truly be money well spent if the region is in a position to thrive at the dark arts when their time at Rodney Parade comes to an end.
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