CHRIS KIRWAN: Dragons need to make much bigger strides

NEW RECRUIT: Lee Byrne will bolster Newport Gwent Dragons next season

NEW RECRUIT: Lee Byrne will bolster Newport Gwent Dragons next season

First published in Sport

THE verdict is unanimous from inside the Newport Gwent Dragons camp when it comes to this season – not great but better than last time.

The 2012/13 campaign wasn’t exactly a tough act to follow and nobody is foolish enough to say that the Dragons have pulled up trees this term but the stats show small steps have been made.

With one game to go they have accrued more points (31 to 28), matched the tally of six wins with a home fixture to come, scored more tries (32 to 31) and conceded fewer (44 to 72).

In fact, the figures show that this season has been similar to 2011/12 when the Dragons finished ninth with 36 points and seven wins.

That’s nothing to write home about but unfortunately that has been about average for the Rodney Parade outfit, who have mixed it near the basement since finishing third in 2004 and fourth in 2005.

Every summer we seem to hear ‘you watch us next season’ and, although I’d love to be proved wrong, I can’t see any dramatic change happening.

Lyn Jones has certainly laid the foundations and I don’t doubt that the Dragons will be stronger thanks to their recruitment; we all know what full-back Lee Byrne, wing Aled Brew, prop Boris Stankovich and lock Ian Gough will bring while hopefully Toring Landman will smash rucks and carry hard like you’d expect of a South African.

And Hallam Amos, Jack Dixon, Tyler Morgan and Elliot Dee will keep developing along with the rest of the Wales Under-20s gang.

It’s enough to be optimistic for next season... but everyone else will get better as well.

The Dragons simply won’t catch the top five of Leinster, Glasgow, Ulster, Munster and the Ospreys.

The sixth-placed Scarlets have the makings of a formidable pack, international half-backs, dangerous runners and the returning Regan King.

Cardiff Blues will be way better – they’ve had a shocking 2013/14 and still finish above the Dragons – while Connacht, with All Black Mils Muliaina in their ranks, and Edinburgh will benefit from their head coaches being settled in.

It means that the Dragons will have to dramatically improve or they will just be treading water by getting slightly better.

I fear it may take a bit longer before the region is really pushing for Rugby Champions Cup qualification, a top-half finish and shaking off the tag of Wales’ bottom region.

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