CHRIS KIRWAN SAYS: Ambition is needed on Parade
9:00am Thursday 1st November 2012 in Sport
IT’S easy to have sympathy for the regions as they feel the financial squeeze while the Welsh Rugby Union boasts of “truly remarkable” figures, but it doesn’t give Newport Gwent Dragons a ‘get out of jail free’ card.
Second from bottom of the Pro12 with only winless Zebre beneath them and out of the Amlin Challenge Cup after just two games... yet it appears that those in the corridors of power are happy to see the region drift along.
There seems to be apathy rather than ambition – are the board content for a region that has great potential to instead have a culture of failure and excuses?
Defeats cannot be greeted with a shrug of the shoulders and the mumbled words, ‘look at what they spend on a tighthead’.
The notion that we should lower our expectations just because others are splashing more cash is farcical and is music to the ears of some. The lack of relegation appears to have allowed indifference to thrive.
The Dragons have always operated on a smaller budget than most of the clubs in Europe’s top three leagues but this season they are at their lowest ebb.
But the region used to claim big scalps and opposition would at the very least leave with a bloody nose.
The fear factor of heading to Rodney Parade has vanished over the last year. However, it would be wrong to point fingers solely at those that take to the field.
In fact the desire and determination of the players can rarely be questioned, it’s just that they are frequently outclassed. But it is not those that wear rugby boots that have created this situation.
When Munster go through the phases to dig out a late win, or Leicester grind out a success thanks to their set piece, or Toulouse power their way to victory we are told that it’s not just down to their spending power, it’s down to their culture.
Young pups come through the system and are taught harsh lessons by gnarled old pros.
One look by Guy Noves, the same steely gaze that has fallen on Fabien Pelous, Christian Califano, Emile Ntamack, tells bright talent at Toulouse that this is no Toulon.
It’s all about the ethos. It’s drummed into them in a forbidding and sometimes uncomfortable environment.
That weight of history, of pulling on a jersey that’s been worn with distinction by greats, can be a powerful tool... but a negative culture can be just as destructive.
And it comes from the very top.
The Dragons have too frequently been the runt of the litter in Wales; a harsh statement that is backed up by cold, hard facts.
The first two seasons of regional rugby went pretty well, third in 2004 after going into the final round with title hopes, and a year later they were fourth.
But the Dragons have been beneath their rivals in five of the last six seasons and only the implosion of the woeful Cardiff Blues – who were still able to win at Rodney Parade – is keeping them in with a sniff of avoiding that ignominy this term.
It’s been a horrendous start to the season with two wins and seven demoralising defeats.
Yet at times it seems that no questions should be asked because the budget is small; that supporters should be resigned to their fate.
This is a region of great potential yet at the moment it is an area where vast numbers don’t give two hoots about the Dragons.
Yes, winning helps develop interest, but it goes deeper than that.
It’s up to those at the top of the organisation to engage those in the region; they need to be aiming high rather than simply wanting to get by.
There needs to be leadership by those that run the show and ambition cannot be limited to the building of a new stand.
In 2010 Exeter played Newport in the British and Irish Cup. In 2011 the Chiefs took on the Dragons in the Amlin Challenge Cup. In 2012 the Devon side were agonisingly beaten in the Heineken Cup by champions Leinster and scared tournament favourites Clermont Auvergne for 40 minutes.
The Chiefs weren’t content to be plucky pretenders, they headed into England’s top flight with a ‘can-do’ spirit.
Exeter are a well-marketed club that Devon, and beyond, are proud of and this week were given permission to double the capacity of their Sandy Park home to 20,000.
They’ve aimed for the top and are thriving, something that the Dragons should be looking at closely.
Action is needed at Rodney Parade because if things are allowed to just amble along then the region could die a slow, incredibly painful death.